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APFA to Continue Talks with American Airlines after Buttigieg Visit

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), the union representing over 27,000 American Airlines flight attendants, concluded another week of mediated talks with the carrier last Friday. Before negotiations resumed the week before, the union had already labelled this a “last-ditch effort" for American to give them the right offer. Otherwise, they expected the National Mediation Board (NMB) to release them from mediation, allowing them to undertake strike action as according to the Railway Labor Act. 

A strike by cabin crew at American Airlines this summer would majorly disrupt what the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) has projected to be the busiest summer travel season ever.

However, American Airlines and its flight attendants will meet again for contract talks this Tuesday, June 17, after allegedly making some progress toward an agreement that might avert a walkout in the summer travel season.  

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su joined the start of talks last week in Washington, D.C., overseen by the NMB, as APFA reported in an update to flight attendants on Friday. 

The union also confirmed that the “Biden administration stayed in contact” regarding the negotiations throughout the week.  

APFA claim to have “made progress on certain important economic items,” though they remain “apart on the final key economic areas of the agreement.”  

Meanwhile, the NMB allegedly requested the union not to discuss the specifics of the talks at this time.  

APFA continue to claim: “We will either reach a tentative agreement, or the NMB will consider issuing a proffer of arbitration and a release into a thirty-day cooling-off period.” 

“More likely than not, the board is inclined to release us,” claimed Jeff Reisberg, an 11-year flight attendant. “They have seen that management is not negotiating in good faith.” 

Reisberg was among a handful of people, mostly flight attendants, who gathered last Wednesday to demonstrate near Charlotte airport for a day of protest. 

However, APFA seem to be misleading their dues-paying members. If a deal was not reached last week, the union said they were going to strike, launching their Strike Command Center (SCC) to up the stakes. Last week ended without a deal, but the union is not being released from talks.  

The NMB seem hesitant to allow a strike to occur. In a letter sent to them last Wednesday, 32 U.S. Senators, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, backed unionized flight attendants in calling for an end to protracted contract talks, suggesting some Democrats believe protracted labor negotiations undermine the value of the right to strike. 

The letter acknowledged: “Since 2006, the NMB has only released airline workers to strike twice—most recently, Spirit Airlines pilots in 2010—compared to dozens of instances in the 1980s and 1990s.” 

“We are concerned that this fact has contributed to the present pattern of unending negotiations and that many carriers are taking advantage of the situation,” it continued. 

In any case, even if the NMB grants APFA release from protracted talks, there is doubt as to whether the Biden administration would allow a strike to proceed in the politically fraught atmosphere of an election run-up. 

Under the Railway Labor Act, the U.S. President can form a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) in the event of the NMB releasing parties into the 30-day cooling-off period before striking, in order to review the situation, potentially adding another 60 days to the timetable. 

President Biden can form a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) if the NMB decides to release parties from mediated bargaining talks unnder the Railway Labor Act of 1926, lengthening negotiations.

As another week of negotiations rolls on, the possibility of a strike for APFA looks as distant as ever. Meanwhile, a deal seems far from complete, with the carrier biding their time with the NMB. 


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