American Airlines flight attendants take key step toward possible strike

Flight attendants at American Airlines voted overwhelmingly to authorize union leaders to call for a strike, a move designed to put pressure on the carrier during negotiations over pay raises.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants said Wednesday that more than 99% of members who voted recently favored giving the union power to call a strike. The union backed up the vote with picketing at several airports.

“Today, we sent a clear message to American Airlines management: We are fired up and ready for a contract. They ignore this strike vote at their peril,” APFA National President Julie Hedrick said in a statement. “Our contributions to the success of American Airlines must be recognized and respected.”

The carrier’s flight attendants haven’t gotten a raise since 2019, she noted. In the union’s initial proposal, it demanded a 35% increase in pay along with a 6% annual increase moving forward, along with enhanced sick leave and vacation pay.

American Airlines said it is making progress in talks with the APFA. “We look forward to reaching an agreement that provides our flight attendants with real and meaningful value,” the company said in a statement. “We understand that a strike authorization vote is one of the important ways flight attendants express their desire to get a deal done.”

Why a walkout is unlikely 

The vote does not mean that a strike is imminent or even likely. Federal law makes it difficult for airline unions to conduct legal strikes. Under the Railway Labor Act, they need a decision from federal mediators that further negotiations would be pointless, which rarely happens. The president and Congress can also get involved to delay or block a strike.

Hedrick acknowledged Wednesday that flight attendants cannot walk off the job unless given the green light by the National Mediation Board and only after a formal 30-day “cooling off” period has elapsed. “But if management continues proposing concessions coupled with meager improvements to compensation and retirement, we will not hesitate to request a release to strike if necessary,” she said.

Earlier this month, American’s pilots ratified a contract that will raise average pay more than 40% over four years. Flight attendants are not expected to reap that kind of increase, as they have less leverage than pilots, who are in short supply.

Other airline unions are also pushing for new contracts. Pilots at Southwest Airlines and flight attendants at United Airlines plan to picket at airports Thursday.

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