American Airlines flight attendants have been told to brace themselves for an impending strike authorization vote as contract negotiations with the Dallas Fort Worth-based carrier continue to heat up.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which legally represents all crew members at American Airlines, ramped up the rhetoric on Wednesday as it warned its members that they “must be fully prepared to fight for a strong contract”.
Negotiations between the two sides have been dragging on for months, and while reams of agenda items have been agreed, the company and the union remain too far apart on some key issues, including pay raises and improvements to flight attendant scheduling and reserve duties.
Back in March, the union filed for federal mediation in an attempt to break the deadlock, and although that mediation process is ongoing, it looks increasingly likely that the two sides will lock horns on a number of items.
“As we head into summer, all Flight Attendants must begin preparing for a possible strike vote,” the APFA union told its members in a Wednesday memo. “We want to advise all Flight Attendants that we will take all steps necessary to reach an agreement, including taking a strike vote if necessary,” the memo continued.
“Management has very different ideas on compensation and will likely resist many of our improvements in other sections. We must collectively fight for what we deserve.”
The APFA union previously told its 23,000 members that it had demanded a 35% hike in hourly pay rates and wanted the airline to start paying flight attendants during boarding – something that only Delta and Skywest currently offer.
The pay demands would result in senior flight attendants at the top end of the pay scale earning more than $95 per hour, while a new hire flight attendant could earn nearly $41 per hour – up from the current pay rate of $30.35 for a new joiner.
APFA also wants to lock in an annual 6% pay rise over the course of a three-year contract.
The union says it is committed to seeing mediation through and hopes to resolve its disputes with the airline through ongoing talks but failing that, a strike authorization vote looks all but certain.
But perhaps concerned about restlessness amongst some of its members, APFA cautioned on Wednesday that any strike vote “must be timed for maximum effectiveness”, especially if the union is to be taken seriously by the airline and the international media.
“For this reason, any decision to take a strike vote will be considered after we have had a chance to engage in our statutory mediation process,” Wednesday’s memo explained.
Members of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents flight crew at American Airlines, recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action in their own contract dispute with the airline.
The union said that 96% of its members took part in the vote, and over 99% voted in favor of authorizing a strike.
A strike authorization vote is just one step in a long process that could ultimately allow a walkout to ago ahead. Any strike would, however, need to be authorized by the federal government which could decide to block a walkout or add onerous conditions to keep the American public flying.
Flight attendants were previously warned by the union not to engage in so-called ‘self-help’ antics, like working to rule or refusing to undertake certain duties, which are illegal under the Railway Labor Act.
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.