American Airlines flight attendants sought government permission to strike going into the holidays. This was denied. Now they’re going to ask again.
Under the Railway Labor Act, airline unions have to seek permission from the National Mediation Board to enter a 30 day cooling off period prior to engaging in ‘self help’ negotiations. (Airlines, similarly, cannot take unilateral action without the parties being released by the Board.)
I wrote that there was no world in which the Mediation Board was going to allow a strike during Christmas holiday travel.
The union may now feel that, with the holidays passed, their chances are better. Entering this 30 day period exerts significant pressure on the airline to come to an agreement.
The airline and union have been making progress on elements of their contract other than pay rates at government-facilitated negotiations. To allow the union to strike, the National Mediation Board would have to find that the parties are an “an impasse.” It’s not clear that they are.
American Airlines has offered pay rates comparable to the top of the industry, matching Delta pay, Delta’s industry-leading boarding pay, and also similar profit sharing terms (though profit sharing payments would be lower, since American Airlines makes less money). The union wants substantially higher pay increases, as well as back pay for years of negotiations. American hasn’t moved off of its economic offer.
The union, for its part, has talked about not actually executing a full strike – instead hitting specific flights on a given day. That way its members can still work and get paid, while creating an environment of uncertainty for customers who would likely book on competitors instead. That’s because flight attendants aren’t in a position to hold out without income, the way pilots might be, and because the union itself doesn’t have the strike fund to pay them while they aren’t working.
Currently the union is in the midst of officer negotiations. Union leadership can’t compromise prior to their own elections. A savvy National Mediation Board would encourage negotiations to continue past the results of these member elections, when leadership may be in a better position to negotiate without immediate fear of their roles.
Union officers are paid substantially more than rank and file flight attendants, having received more than a 40% raise – to 115 hours of trip removal pay – with the JCBA imposed contract that was part of the union’s support for US Airways taking over American Airlines.
This article originally appeared on View From The Wings.
Photo: American Airlines