In a strong show of unity and determination, 99.47% of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) members, representing over 26,000 American Airlines flight attendants, have voted in favor of a strike. The vote gives union leaders the authority to call for a strike if American Airlines refuses to agree to “reasonable” contract terms.
The APFA, which covers more than 26,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, announced the results of the strike authorization vote on Wednesday. Julie Hedrick, the national president of APFA, emphasized the flight attendants' resolve, stating, "Flight attendants are fired up and ready for a contract. They (the company) ignore this strike vote at their peril."
If the company and the union fail to reach an agreement in federal mediation, the APFA could request to enter a 30-day cooling-off period. After this period, the flight attendants would be free to commence a strike. It is worth noting that this vote comes at a time when union workers, including pilots, employees, and delivery drivers, are enjoying increased bargaining power due to a tight labor market and growing public support for unions.
Last week, American Airlines' pilots approved a new contract that offers substantial pay raises and benefits increases totaling over $9.6 billion over four years. This move was made to compete with rival carriers United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which have also made significant contract offers to their employees. The demand for travel continues to surge, leading airlines to aggressively recruit more staff. This has emboldened workers to negotiate for higher wages and improved working conditions.
The flight attendants' vote for strike authorization is aimed at pressuring American Airlines during contract negotiations, specifically for pay raises. The APFA has noted that flight attendants have not received a raise since 2019. In their initial proposal, the union demanded a 35% increase in pay, along with a 6% annual increase moving forward, in addition to improved sick leave and vacation pay.
To show their resolve, the APFA organized picketing at several airports. The union's message was clear: the contributions of flight attendants to American Airlines' success must be recognized and respected. The union took to social media, tweeting, "Today, we sent a clear message to American Airlines management: We are fired up and ready for a contract."
American Airlines stated that it is making progress in talks with the APFA and is committed to reaching an agreement that provides flight attendants with meaningful value. The company acknowledges that the strike authorization vote is an essential expression of flight attendants' desire to secure a fair deal.
However, it is important to note that the vote does not guarantee an immediate or imminent strike. Federal law makes it difficult for airline unions to legally strike. Under the Railway Labor Act, unions need a decision from federal mediators that further negotiations would be futile, which is a rare occurrence. Additionally, the president and Congress have the power to intervene and potentially delay or block a strike.
Julie Hedrick addressed this issue, acknowledging that flight attendants cannot walk off the job unless approved by the National Mediation Board and after the completion of a formal 30-day cooling-off period. However, she made it clear that if American Airlines continues proposing concessions and offering minimal improvements to compensation and retirement, the union will not hesitate to request permission to strike if necessary.
While American Airlines' pilots recently ratified a contract that will increase average pay by over 40% in four years, flight attendants are not expected to see such significant increases due to their comparatively lesser leverage. Nevertheless, flight attendants remain determined to secure better terms, and they are not alone. Other airline unions, including pilots at Southwest Airlines and flight attendants at United Airlines, are also pushing for new contracts and plan to picket at airports to make their demands heard.
As negotiations between American Airlines and the APFA continue, the outcome will have significant implications for the future of the airline, its employees, and the broader aviation industry.