A group of lawmakers are urging the National Mediation Board (NMB) to authorize a major flight attendants union request to “advance the contract negotiation process” for United Express flight attendants employed by Air Wisconsin – or, in other words, allow them to stage a walkout in protest at stalled contract talks. Pay and conditions for Air Wisconsin flight attendants have been frozen for more than 12-years and contract negotiations have faltered for over four years.
Flight attendants represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) voted to authorize a strike back in 2018 but under restrictions within the Railway Labor Act, they must first get permission from the NMB to stage a walkout. Despite the failure of federal mediators to find a deal, the NMB has so far refused to progress the negotiation process.
“Air Wisconsin flight attendants are trapped in poverty wages as their voices are ignored by executives at Air Wisconsin and United Airlines,” commented Rep. Mark Pocan, author of an open letter to the NMB which was co-signed by 25 other lawmakers.
“When workers organize and vote to strike, they deserve to exercise that right,” he continued.
Some full-time flight attendants at the airline earn as little as $15,000 per yea – far less than FA’s directly employed by United Airlines and despite the fact they wear the same uniform and represent the airline.
Charismatic union leader Sara Nelson said delays in the negotiating process were inexcusable and that flight attendants were earning “poverty wages” while officials dragged their heels.
“There is no excuse for the pace or length of negotiations with Air Wisconsin,” Nelson said. “It has been two years since this management made any movement in negotiations, even with the assistance of federal mediators. Flight Attendants meanwhile are earning poverty wages and often can’t afford a place to live.”
AFA has sent multiple letters to the NMB in the last 12-months asking the board to place the two sides into a 30-day cooling-off period – at the end of which, flight attendants would legally be allowed to strike. Each time, the NMB has requested further mediation. No progress has yet been made.
Nelson has previously suggested that flight attendants could stage wildcat strike action if they are “pushed too far”.
Legally, however, Air Wisconsin flight attendants can’t go on strike until the NMB allows them to enter a 30-day cooling-off period and the board seems incredibly reluctant to let that happen.
Air Wisconsin has been contacted for comment.
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.