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Are American Airlines flight attendants losing faith in their union?

With no deal on the table and the pressure for strike action growing day-by-day, American Airlines (AA) flight attendants are starting to lose faith in their union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA).


APFA, which represents 27,000 AA flight attendants, staged its National Officer elections at the start of January. Out of the 27,000 flight attendants represented by the union, only 7,530 votes came in for the role National President in total, meaning 71% of members did not vote. At the same time, only 7,504 voted for National Vice President; an even lower 7,479 for National Secretary; and 7,486 for National Treasurer.

(Image source: APFA)

The low voter turnout has led to run-off elections across the board for APFA’s leadership roles. Ballot packages were once again mailed out on February 5, opening run-off elections, while voters now have a whole month to respond by March 6 when APFA will close the ballot count.


Votes for the first round of National Officer Elections in 2024 were low across the country – and APFA’s lowest to date. Previous elections have seen a rare minimum of 8,000 votes, while 2020 alone had votes upwards of 9,000 across the board.


The decline in voter-engagement from APFA’s flight attendants is suggestive of either a decline in faith of AA flight attendants in their union, or a general decline in patience with fruitless labor negotiations: or, more likely, both.

American Airlines flight attendants have been picketing since September 2023, amid fruitless contract negotiations.

An overwhelmingly favorable vote for strike authorization last August made for a powerful sign of AA flight attendants’ discontent, yet no progress has been made since.


In late November, after failed contract negotiations, APFA sent a formal request to the National Mediation Board (NMB) to be released into the 30-day cooling-off period necessary before striking, as per the Railway Act. Two series of failed contract talks in mid-December and early January has only led to further stagnation.


On January 18, Julie Hedrick, APFA’s incumbent National President running for re-election, sent a second formal letter to the NMB, requesting AA flight attendants be released into a 30-day cooling-off period.


In the letter, Hedrick claims that “American Airlines has no incentive to engage in real bargaining because they believe flight attendants will not be released to strike.”


She further writes: “Our members see auto workers, UPS workers, health care workers, and others improving their lives through collective bargaining backed by the threat of a strike, yet here our employer can simply refuse to counter our economic proposal. That is not how the system of bargaining under the Railway Labor Act is supposed to work.”


Meanwhile, pilots at all major carriers have managed to win huge pay rises in far less time on the basis of a manufactured pilot shortage. Southwest pilots were the last to achieve this milestone, securing a 50% raise by 2028 in January this year.


“We haven’t had a raise in five years. Our flight attendants have seen the very rich contracts that the pilots did get, and they expect American Airlines to come to the table,” said Hedrick. 


AA flight attendants are not alone. Over the past month, flight attendants at Air Wisconsin voted to authorize a strike on January 24, while only last Tuesday, February 13, flight attendants at Alaska Airlines also voted in favor of authorizing a strike for the first time in three decades.


Following the Alaska Airlines vote, tensions once again reached boiling point for flight attendant unions last Tuesday. On February 13, three separate unions – APFA, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA, which represents crews at United Airlines and several others), and the Transport Workers Union (TWU, which represents crews at Southwest among others) – picketed and held rallies at 30 different airports across the country, including in New York, Chicago, Dallas, and beyond.

Flight attendant unions across the country organised a "Worldwide day of action" on February 13. (Image source: CWA)

Unions referred to Tuesday’s protests as a “Worldwide Day of Action”, rather than legally sanctioned strikes; federal law makes it particularly difficult for airline unions to conduct strikes, as APFA have discovered.


Dissatisfaction among US flight attendants is constantly growing. American Airlines flight attendants, who seem to have set the trend with their strike authorization vote in August, have made little-to-no progress, while there is currently no end in sight.


Flight attendant unions lack the advantageous position of pilot unions, such as the Air Line Pilot Association (ALPA), who were able to exploit the pilot-shortage in conjunction with the more selective and time-consuming nature of becoming a pilot. Therefore, flight attendant unions face a far tougher challenge in forcing carriers to meet similar demands, not least in view of the additional federal difficulty of actually enacting a legal strike.


APFA’s ongoing struggle has become a central example of this tiresome quagmire, while the patience of its fee-paying flight attendants is now waning.


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