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American Airlines Accused of “Offshoring” Flight Attendant Jobs to Cheaper Foreign Labor

American Airlines Accused of “Offshoring” Flight Attendant Jobs to Cheaper Foreign Labor

American Airlines faces accusations of offshoring flight attendant jobs to cheaper labor in Latin America after warning 10,000 crew members based in the United States that they faced being involuntarily furloughed in October when federal payroll support comes to an end. In contrast, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) claims foreign flight attendants who are on lower wages have not been threatened with redundancy and could be used more widely by the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline.

At the heart of the dispute are plans by American to slash the number of U.S.-based flight attendants working out of its Miami (MIA) base due to a “significant overage” of crew. Union leaders fear these jobs will instead be picked up by foreign national crew based in Latin America – the airline currently has crew bases in Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Lima and Bogota.

“APFA has long objected to the continued offshoring of American Airlines jobs. Now is the time to end this practice, which negatively impacts only one group of employees: APFA represented Flight Attendants,” reads one letter which flight attendants are being urged to send to American’s chief executive Doug Parker.

“The Pilots at American are not subjected to having their flying sent offshore to cheaper labor. I urge you to address this issue and help save Flight Attendants from unnecessary furloughs,” the letter continues.

While foreign flight attendants at American’s Latin American bases have been offered voluntary options to reduce payroll costs, the airline has allegedly said it would be too expensive to furlough these flight attendants or downsize the overseas bases. Julie Hedrick, president of the flight attendant union claims their own financial analysis proves it would actually cost more to furlough U.S.-based workers on a like for like basis.

“It is a matter of fundamental fairness that cutbacks in the operation are spread across the entire operation, including the Latin American operation,” Hedrick wrote in a letter to Parker last week.

An American Airlines spokesperson, however, said the airline was doing everything possible to avoid furloughs but if they became unavoidable foreign crew bases would see a proportional reduction in staff, subject to local laws. “Our flight attendants based in Latin America are American Airlines team members, and many of these flight attendants have a very long tenure with American,” a spokesperson told us.

There’s also limited scope as to how many foreign flight attendants the airline can hire due to complicated contract agreements. At present, the airline can employ a maximum of 394 foreign flight attendants in its Latin American bases, plus 2.75 per cent of APFA represented flight attendants.

If American were to furlough all 10,000 U.S.-based flight attendants that have received WARN notices, the airline would be limited to employing around 900 foreign crew and at present, Latin American crew are also limited to only flying into and out of Miami.

The subject of foreign flight attendants has long been a thorny issue for APFA which followed American’s acquisition of Eastern Airlines’ Central and South American routes in 1989. The deal included foreign-based crews who had been employed by Eastern Airlines, drawing the ire of APFA and which resulted in the union attempting to block the purchase from going ahead.

American Airlines has also faced accusations of offshoring American jobs from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) who claimed in 2018 that nearly 50% by value of maintenance work on U.S.-registered aircraft was actually carried out in maintenance facilities outside of the United States. The union branded the airline ‘UnAmerican Airlines’ as part of a campaign to get jobs moved back to the U.S.