The American Airlines flight attendants union has officially asked for permission from the US Government to let them go on strike after protracted contract talks with the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline ended in an impasse.
The president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) said on Monday that she had written to the National Mediation Board requesting to let the union and airline enter a 30-day cooling-off period.
The NMB is an independent federal agency charged with overseeing and enforcing the Railway Labor Act, a set of labor rules that cover various transportation workers, including airline employees.
Under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, the flight attendants union must first seek permission to enter a cooling-off period, and workers can only legally take so-called ‘self-help’ action or strike once the cooling-off period has ended.
It remains uncertain, however, whether the NMB will let the union break away from federally mediated negotiations to enter the cooling-off period. If the NMB were to make a snap decision in favor of the union then it could see flight attendants go on strike ahead of Christmas, although realistically, a verdict is likely to take some time and could be stalled into the new year.
Even if the NMB does release the union, the Biden administration could still impose certain restrictions or mandate a minimum level of cover to keep the American people flying.
The decision to ask for permission to strike was made on Friday, although it wasn’t until Monday that APFA president Julie Hedrick wrote to the NMB.
“After negotiating for almost five years, including six months of mediation with the assistance of the National Mediation Board, the parties remain apart on key issues,” Hedrick wrote in her letter.
“Despite our best efforts with the assistance of mediators from the National Mediation Board, we are unable to reach an agreement,” the letter continued.
Despite the two sides managing to reach a tentative agreement on 24 sections of the contract, they remain at loggerheads on the key issue of pay, and at a recent mediated negotiating session in Phoenix, American Airlines failed to present a new proposal.
“The Company has staked out a firm position on economic matters, and APFA has been clear that the Company’s economic framework does not and will not work. No amount of future bargaining will change that, absent a release into a thirty-day cooling-off period,” Hedrick explained in her letter, outlining her reasoning.
“After exhausting efforts to reach an agreement, airline workers have the statutory and constitutional right to withhold labor in our efforts to improve our work lives”.
In a memo to her members, Hedrick said flight attendants were “tired of waiting and tired of the overall disrespect from American Airlines” but warned crew members that taking any form of self-help before the end of a 30-day cooling off period was illegal and could land individuals in big trouble.
American Airlines has offered flight attendants a 17% pay rise over the course of a four-year contract – far below what APFA has demanded, although flight attendants haven’t had a raise since January 2019 and the pay deal was negotiated several years before that.
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.