An arbitration board has told American Airlines to make significant changes to a performance and sickness policy that flight attendants have labelled “disrespectful and punitive”. Flight attendants have been fighting the policy since it was introduced in September 2018 but independent arbitration was delayed on several occasions.
The controversial policy automatically awarded points when a flight attendant took sick leave, arrived late for work, failed to report for a flight, or for receiving customer complaints. Extra points were automatically assigned if sick leave was taken during busy travel periods like holidays or during bad weather.
Accumulating 4-6 points in a 12-month rolling period would result in a performance review, while as little as 8 points meant receiving a final written warning. Flight attendants who racked up 11 points could see their employment with American Airlines terminated.
The airline introduced the new policy as one of the last steps in creating a single workgroup of flight attendants following American’s merger with U.S. Airways in 2013. American decided to take elements from the old contracts of legacy AA and legacy U.S. Airways flight attendants, along with introducing new elements to create a new attendance policy.
But the independent arbiters concluded that some elements of the programme had “run afoul” of the collective bargaining agreement that governs the way flight attendants at the airline work.
The arbitration board decided that American couldn’t award any more than 3 points for a single period of sick leave – no matter how long the absence was for. The board also ruled that American must make “positive contact” with reserve flight attendants before a two-hour countdown for them to get to work started.
Under the new system, crew scheduling had started the counter from the moment they left a voicemail on the flight attendant’s phone. From now on, crew scheduling will first have to actually speak to the flight attendant before starting the countdown.
In another victory for flight attendants, a planned leave of absence during a “critical period” for a medical appointment or another significant event won’t now be awarded performance points.
But siding with American, the board ruled that flight attendants should only be given a 5 minute grace period before being marked as a late report and being removed from a trip. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) had been fighting for a 10 minute grace period.
“This award has been a long time coming and eagerly awaited by our members who have had to endure the punitive program since October of 2018,” explained Lori Bassani, the outgoing president of APFA.
Bassani says her team submitted a grievance within minutes of American introducing the new sickness policy in 2018.
APFA continues to pursue a separate claim over the programme with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The union claims the policy unfairly discriminated against female workers who are mostly female, whereas the airline’s pilot workgroup who are predominantly male doesn’t have any such sickness policy.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.