American Airlines flight attendants in Charlotte said Thursday they are ready to strike but would prefer that the carrier make a deal after years of negotiations.
“We are ready,” said Rosaland Groves, a 31-year American flight attendant. “I hope the public and management take this seriously.” She was among about 75 flight attendants who demonstrated near Charlotte Douglas International Airport Thursday, despite the threat of rain.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants mounted demonstrations in 12 major airports. Charlotte is American’s second largest hub and has a base of about 2,700 flight attendants. APFA announced Wednesday that a strike authorization vote won 99.47% backing. It said 93% of eligible flight attendants voted. The union has 26,000 members.
Groves participated in the APFA’s four-day 1993 strike, the last strike at a major U.S. airline. She recalls that hundreds of flight attendants stormed out of O’Hare International Airport on the morning of Nov. 18 after the strike was announced. “Everyone showed up to work and at that moment, we all walked out,” she said. “We could not believe it, seeing that sea of blue walking out.”
Most flights operated but without flight attendants, which meant that the flights could not legally carry passengers. Groves said some pilots pulled all the shades down to indicate that no passengers were aboard.
Renee Paff, a 37-year American flight attendant, was on a picket line at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1993. “The pilots flew empty planes,” she recalled. “It was Robert Crandall then; now it’s Robert Isom,” she said, naming former and present American CEOs. Paff said she hopes that the strike authorization motivates American to negotiate.
“We understand that a strike authorization vote is one of the important ways flight attendants express their desire to get a deal done,” American said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “The results don’t change our commitment or distract us from working expeditiously to reach an agreement.
“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made in negotiations with the APFA, and we look forward to reaching an agreement that provides our flight attendants with real and meaningful value,” the carrier said.
The flight attendants’ five-year contract became amendable in December 2019. Negotiations that began in 2018 were shut down due to the pandemic. They resumed in August 2021.
“We’re need a contract and we’re at a heated point in negotiations,” said Scott Hazlewood, president of the Charlotte APFA base since 2019. “I’m confident we can hash out most of this contract in the next few months.” He said APFA has made proposals on most issues but has yet to get a response from American.
The strike authorization vote is one step in a long walkup to a strike under the Railway Labor Act. The act generally enables employees in the two essential transportation industries, rail and airlines, to unionize but also sets up a process that includes mediation, release from mediation and a cooling-off period before either side can engage in “self-help,” which means either a lockout or a strike.