American Airlines isn’t just negotiating with its pilots. They have an amendable contract with flight attendants as well, and have for years. Negotiations have progressed slowly but the Association of Professional Flight Attendants has now presented their economic proposal to the company. And as some in Dallas might say, bless their hearts?
- 35% raises – so that starting pay goes from $30.35 per hour to $41 per hour, and the top of the scale goes up to $95 per hour – plus 6% annual raises on top of that.
- Pay for time spent during boarding, which unions haven’t made a priority in the past because higher wages in lieu of pay during boarding benefits their most senior members. But now that non-union Delta added this without negotiations their members are jealous.
- Premium pay for working the galley, and for night time flying.
- Higher per diem allowances “along with a ‘me too’ clause that would see allowances increase automatically if pilots won a higher rate.”
It’s quaint that flight attendants think they have the bargaining leverage to automatically get what pilots get. Pilots are in shorter supply and can do far more to bring an airline to a halt, so have much greater leverage. That’s why pilots get better benefits.
Years ago, it became a meme in public policy discussions that you could improve any proposal by adding “that everyone would have their own pony!”
An an airline passenger, I may wish for better inflight meals and ice cream sundaes on shorter flights. But someone else can make a better proposal – better inflight meals and ice cream sundaes and Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle. And I respond well, sure, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle and a pony!
American Airlines flight attendants, for their part, have made their economic proposal better by asking for the whole farm.
There’s this strange notion of negotiations that some people have, maybe they got it from television or by reading The Art Of The Deal, that you want to start really high because you’re going to wind up meeting in the middle. The higher your opening offer, the better your final result. That’s not how any of this works.
Rather, there’s a zone of possible agreement. Flight attendant pay will be similar at the major airlines, with differences based on priorities of management and the union. Some will want slightly higher pay and more generous work rules, others will prefer stricter work rules and somewhat lower pay. But there’s a certain amount that an airline can expect to pay in terms of economic cost across all of the elements of the contract. Sometimes delay changes the economic conditions – for better or worse – and thus the expected contract cost.
Of course before even presenting their proposal to the company, the flight attendants union asked for a federal mediator, the first step in a potential strike (since the National Mediation Board has to ‘release’ a union to ‘self help’ in order to strike).
At the same time that the union is negotiating aggressively in public, I’m told that leadership actually worked closely with the airline to bring back the attendance ‘points system’ that cabin crew loathe, that penalizes employees for calling in sick. The union feared that high sick rates would mean that the company scheduled more crew to work reserve as a backup, which is bad for senior members of the union.