Flight attendants at American Airlines have been warned not to engage in so-called ‘self-help’ tactics as contentious contract talks drag on at the Dallas Fort Worth-based carrier.
A self-help strategy could see flight attendants work to rule, provide minimum levels of service to customers, or even refuse to perform specific duties altogether.Embed from Getty Images
Flight attendants could also work together to phone in sick en masse in an attempt to cripple the airline’s operation without actually going on strike.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents thousands of American Airlines crew members, has been attempting to ratchet up the pressure on management to secure contract improvements but the union has warned flight attendants not to take matters into their own hands.
In a recent memo, APFA said the two sides were about to enter a “critical phase” of negotiations as they start talks on pay improvements, including boarding pay.
Ahead of these make-or-break talks, the union has warned members that the negotiations are governed by the Railway Labor Act and have to follow a set process.
Although the Railway Labor Act has provisions for self-help tactics and strike action, the independent National Mediation Board must authorize this action. This can only happen after talks have officially broken down and attempts at mediation have failed.
As APFA points out, getting the authorization to carry out a strike from the National Mediation Board has traditionally “proven difficult to obtain” – which could, of course, make it attractive for some flight attendants to quietly take their own action.
In fact, there has already been anecdotal evidence of this happening already, but the flight attendant union is now warning its members not to get carried away.
“As negotiations heat up, all Flight Attendants must understand that it is illegal to engage in self-help prior to the end of a cooling-off period,” the memo continued.
“That means no calls to not pick up open time, refusing to perform duties, coordinating calling in sick, etc. Flight Attendants have been terminated at other carriers simply for posting or ‘liking’ such posts on social media.”
Initially, American Airlines could react to reports of unauthorized self-help action by obtaining an injunction against the union – action that the union says it doesn’t want to get “bogged down in”.
For now, APFA is sticking to its legal tactic of mass picketing events at airports across the U.S. while talks continue. The two sides have managed to agree on a number of items, although the parties remain far apart on some issues – pay talks could, however, prove the most contentious time in the negotiations.
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.