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Will AA Flight Attendants Strike? And What Should Passengers Know?

Over past two weeks, American Airlines flight attendants seem to have come closer than ever to a strike under the command of their union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), after negotiations with American Airlines management have been yet to yield a contract. 


On June 5, APFA rejected CEO Robert Isom’s offer of an immediate 17% raise and opened up a Strike Command Centre (SCC) at their HQ in Euless, near Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) airport.  

DFW airport is the second largest airport in the country.

The union claimed to have started advising its 27,000 odd dues-paying members to think about saving money and moving medical appointments. Meanwhile, APFA has mailed out and posted on its website a strike handbook for flight attendants. 


Strike action would majorly disrupt air travel across the country, especially at American Airlines’ largest central hub at DFW international airport.  


7,600 American Airlines flight attendants are based at DFW and the airline has over 900 daily flights there at peak travel periods.  


So, should travelers with American Airlines tickets this summer/fall be worried? What’s the likelihood that American Airlines flight attendants will actually walk off the job? How soon could this happen? 


These are the questions plaguing millions of travelers this summer.  

Firstly, it remains unclear whether flight attendants will actually strike, since they must obtain legal permission. This is because labor negotiations in the transportation industry are governed by the Railway Labor Act of 1926, which sets out a series of steps that parties must see through before a strike can happen. 


 “The Railway Labor Act is designed to very, very, very significantly minimize the possibility of a disruption to the transportation system,” said Steve Johnson, American Airlines’ vice chair and chief strategy officer.  


Under the Act, union and carrier are required to undertake federally mediated talks at the behest of the National Mediation Board (NMB). 


“It’s structured in a way for which there’s more oversight of collective bargaining,” continued Johnson.  


At the start of this week, APFA and American resumed negotiations once again in Washington, D.C., with the NMB’s oversight. Meanwhile, the NMB has the authority to continue scheduling further days or weeks of talks.  

AA flight attendants took to picketing again in a national day of protest on June 13.

However, if federal mediators decide that this week’s negotiations have reached an impasse, both union and airline will be released into a 30-day “cooling-off” period. During this “cooling-off,” both parties can still opt to continue negotiations.  


APFA have requested permission from the NMB to be released into the 30-day “cooling-off” period twice already since last August. Both times this was rejected. 


Meanwhile, Gary Leff, travel expert and blogger for View from the Wing, commented that "We are not at the place, at the end of negotiations this week, where we’re looking at a strike of some kind right away.”  


“We’re looking at an increased chance that the National Mediation Board could authorize the parties to go into self-help after 30 days, at which point they have the discretion, at some point to do so.”  


After the 30-day cooling-off period, unions can then take action – unless the White House then intervenes. Under Railway Labor Act, President Joe Biden could declare that negotiations must continue, which occurred once before in 1997 when the American Airlines pilots’ union called a strike after rejecting a final proposal from management.  


President Clinton intervened swiftly, employing the seldom-used power to create a Presidential Emergency Board, which in turn has 30 days to come up with recommendations for how the dispute ought to be settled. Thereafter, both parties have 30 days to consider these suggestions.  


Once again, if this does not work, only then could flight attendants actually go on strike. 


But even if APFA gain permission to strike from the NMB, it remains uncertain whether they will be able to strike. Meanwhile, Biden will likely not want to upset the support of unions for political reasons=, although he may also want to avoid a disruptive strike in the run-up to an election. 


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