Flight attendants at American Airlines have held picket rallies at 11 major airports in the US, over the airline rejecting new union contract proposals from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 25,000 of its flight attendants.
The move is the latest in a series of industrial actions and disputes to have hit the US airlines industry as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. Workers and unions say that the industry has sought to return to normal without addressing serious problems, especially around pay and staffing levels.
Julie Hedrick, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, explained negotiations were initially delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but restarted in August 2021. Since that time the company has rejected improvements sought by workers.
“We’ve been going without a raise since January 2019. It’s been many years since our flight attendants got a raise and a lot of our bases are in very high cost of living cities, such as Boston, New York, Chicago and Miami, so we’re definitely ready for a raise with the way everything has increased in price,” said Hedrick.
She added: “Our staffing has also been cut. We’re back to flying the same amount of flights and hours we flew back in 2019, prior to Covid, with thousands of fewer flight attendants.”
She noted the union is pushing for pay rises, better flexibility for flights, and improved operational reliability, as American Airlines reported a profit of $478m (£402m) in the third quarter of 2022, including record revenue.
“Employees at American Airlines helped American Airlines return to profitability,” she added. “We’ve helped this airline return to profitability, so it’s our time.”
American Airlines is not the only US carrier in conflict with its workers.
Nearly 10,000 pilots at United Airlines voted down a tentative agreement on 2 November and picketed outside the United Airlines Flight Training Center in Denver, Colorado, on 15 November over delays in coming to an agreement acceptable to pilots.
“Management has chosen to delay the conclusion of our negotiations,” said United Master Executive Council chair Capt Mike Hamilton. “Continued stalling at the bargaining table puts the company’s growth plans at risk and hinders the airline’s overall goal of being the best airline in the world.”
In September 2022, flight attendants at Southwest Airlines and United Airlines held picket protests at airports around the US to protest delays, operational issues and the working conditions posed by the delays.
At Delta Airlines, nearly 15,000 pilots voted to authorize a strike with 99% voting in favor, the first strike vote taken at Delta since 2006. Contract negotiations were paused due to Covid-19, but resumed in January 2022. The National Mediation Board must decide that additional mediation efforts would not be productive and release the airline and union, Delta Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), to arbitration, and if either side declines, a 30-day cooling off period would proceed before a strike can begin.
“We’ve been working under pay rates, work rules, benefits that were all negotiated in 2016,” said Evan Baach, a pilot at Delta Airlines and spokesperson for the ALPA. “We’ve been in negotiations for quite some time. Our contract became amendable in 2019. We’re approaching the end of 2022 here and our pilots are frustrated.”
Baach noted pilots at Delta Airlines have been working record overtime, as the airlines reported record quarterly revenue in the third quarter of 2022. The union took offense to comments made by Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian in an interview on the Today Show, claiming there is no possibility of a pilots’ strike.
“Delta pilots played a huge role in helping the company get through the pandemic. We’ve been working a record amount of overtime. In longer days, we have shorter nights at home, we’ve been spending more time away from our families,” added Baach. “We’ve been working incredibly hard. We are long term stakeholders at Delta Airlines. We dedicate decades of our lives to a career at Delta and we’ve earned an industry leading contract.”
American Airlines did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the picketing. Delta Airlines dismissed strike concerns as a tactic to gain leverage in negotiations, but affirmed a new contract would be resolved before a strike is considered.
This article originally appeared on The Guardian