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United Airlines Flight Attendants Protest Stalling Labor Negotiations in Outrage at Corporate Management

United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 17 airports worldwide on Thursday, April 11. Their widespread protest coincided with a discovery of the rise in salaries of United’s management. 


The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), the union representing over 24,000 United Airlines flight attendants, organized the protest, putting out an RSVP on their website and encouraging flight attendants to “Get Loud”. 

The demonstration took place at 17 airports worldwide in an attempt to demand United executives stop stalling contract negotiations, according to AFA’s subsequent statement.  


However, United Airlines flight attendants’ latest action was also motivated by anger from finding out that United executives had received double-digit compensation increases in 2023, according to a proxy statement form the carrier.  


United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby made close to $19 million in 2023, with his compensation increasing by 90%. Meanwhile, flight attendants at United Airlines haven’t seen a raise since 2020 and have been in unionized contract negotiations with the carrier for two-and-a-half years already, unable to reach a deal. 

Scott Kirby was appointed United CEO in 2020, taking over from Oscar Munoz.

“If the airline has money to award execs with massive compensation increases, we expect to receive the same,” said AFA United President, Ken Diaz, who further pointed out that “United Flight Attendants are the lifeblood of this airline.” 


Union representatives of United flight attendants had been in their second round of federally mediated bargaining sessions with United corporate management last week. According to AFA’s statement on Thursday, the union originally filed for the National Mediation Board (NMB) to step in after United’s management refused to “jointly enter an expedited process to conclude two years of overdue negotiations.” 


However, flight attendants remain without a deal. This scenario has become widespread across the US’ commercial aviation industry: unionized flight attendants have been unable to achieve a deal with respective airline management across the board.  


This has led to an increase in protests and rise in strike authorization votes. Last Thursday, it was United Airlines flight attendants who took to picket lines by the thousands to tell United management: “Corporate greed doesn’t fly!” 

The Railway Act makes it hard for flight attendant unions to actually enact strike action. Even if flight attendants vote to authorize a strike, as so many have over the past few months, their union must then request release from federal mediation with the NMB into the 30-day cooling-off period necessary before striking. In other words, a strike authorization vote in no way guarantees strike action.  


Protests of Thursday’s sort, therefore, are nothing more than a display of discontent. 


Meanwhile, unions put forward the case that the necessity of federal mediation under the Railway Act allows airline management to purposefully stall negotiations.  


This claim is not unique to AFA, but other flight attendant unions make the same argument, including the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) which represents over 27,000 American Airlines flight attendants. 


APFA have likewise been unable to secure the right deal for their flight attendants with American Airlines management, prompting several unsuccessful attempts to be released form federal mediation. All the while, dues-paying flight attendants have started losing faith in their union and APFA’s ability to actually reach a deal. 


Out of the US’ major carriers, Delta Air Lines flight attendants are the only group yet to be unionized.  


Whilst unionized flight attendants at United Airlines, paying union dues out of their wages to AFA, have been protesting against corporate greed within United’s management and executives, Delta, in reflection of their corporate ethos, paid out $1.4 billion in profit sharing to its employees back in February. This bonus payout gave its employees roughly two months of extra pay


Unburdened by unionized contract disputes, Delta has also become the US’ top performing airline across the board.  


As the commercial aviation industry continues to be squeezed by the ongoing safety crisis, United Airlines flight attendants will continue to hope this week that their union can broker the right deal with airline management. However, past form indicates their desired outcome is unlikely.  


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