American Airlines flight attendants have a generally weak union. Sara Nelson’s larger Association of Flight Attendants has eyed coming in and taking over. AFA-CWA even sent masks to legacy US Airways flight attendants during the pandemic, telling me they still consider those crewmembers to be members of their union.
It’s no wonder that they aren’t seeing the concessions they’re after from American Airlines in contract negotiations. So they’re planning for informational picketing on November 15 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in hub cities plus Boston and San Francisco (where American is eliminating its flight attendant base): Boston; New York JFK; Philadelphia; Washington National; Charlotte; Miami; Dallas – Ft. Worth; Chicago O’Hare; Phoenix; San Francisco; Los Angeles.
The complaints they highlight:
- More work inflight than ever before. American’s flight attendants resisted bringing back service into the cabin. For the airline’s widebody aircraft, and cross country premium Airbus A321Ts, American actually reduced staffing levels during the pandemic and hasn’t brought those levels back to they were even as they’ve brought back service.
- Not enough flight attendants means brutal schedules. While American is hiring flight attendants, they shed staff during the pandemic (even though $10 billion in direct taxpayer cash to the airline was supposed to mean keeping everyone employed). Though flight schedules are nearly back to full 2019 levels, staffing is not. (Fewer union members, and by the way flight attendants are behind in their union dues.) This results in,
Longer duty days, minimal rest, and reschedules contribute to Flight Attendant exhaustion and decreased morale.
- Too much time without a pay increase. Their contract was up for renegotiation before the pandemic. The pandemic delayed it, and the union hasn’t had significant leverage. The longer the airline goes without a new contract, the lower its costs.
Ultimately they aren’t in a strong bargaining position, though any contract will be an improvement. And the union isn’t strong either.
The union says this will ‘turn up the heat’ and it will generate some attention, that attention will dissipate, and at the end of the day they’re not nearly in the bargaining position of pilots or even of mechanics (who disrupted the airline’s 2019 summer with work slowdowns).
Past union leadership seems to have been most interested in the money it could source from the union itself while current leadership even excused the fall 2020 furloughs where more flight attendants were stood down at American than any other airline.