American Airlines flight attendants have taken the first step towards a strike in requesting a federal mediator to assist in negotiations that have dragged on for years.
At the same time, the union has updated its members on the status of contract discussions. Specifically, they’ve outlined where things are on flight attendant scheduling and working reserve (qualify of life issues).
There are a couple of interesting developments, where the union feels it is making progress:
- New hires are expected to start off on ‘straight reserve’ rather than getting firm flying schedules, in order to reduce the number of existing flight attendants who have to work reserve. Different schedules and work rules for new hires versus existing crew is, essentially, advocating for ‘B scales’.
Flight attendants hate being scheduled for reserve. I understand that union leadership even supported American bringing back its attendance ‘points system’ in fall 2021, which penalizes employees for calling in sick, because they feared that high sick rates would mean that the company scheduled more crew to work reserve as a backup.
- Senior flight attendants have been known to schedule desirable trips and then ‘sell’ those duty assignments to less senior crew. The group doing this has been known as ‘the cartel’. The airline ahs tried to crack down on this, by reducing flexibility of trip trades. While saying they recognize this as ‘a problem’ the union is pushing back on limiting trip trades as a solution.
What’s so often missed from the ‘union versus management’ narrative is that a union’s position is so often about privileging one group of employees over another (‘worker versus worker’ more or as much as ‘worker versus management’).
For instance while Delta Air Lines, which is non-union, made an industry first move to start paying flight attendants for time spent boarding aircraft (union contracts generally pay a higher rate for flying time but don’t calculate time boarding), people miss that flight attendants aren’t paid for boarding because unions negotiate this. And the reason unions prefer higher pay rates rather than boarding pay is because this benefits senior crew – who operate fewer, but longer flights – at the expense of junior crew who fly short domestic hopes with more boarding time.
So it’s not at all surprising that the bargaining position of the American Airlines flight attendants union would be to benefit senior crew (reducing reserve time by imposing more reserve on new hires, and give more trip trade flexibility to senior crew some of whom sell their trips to junior crew).
Pay issues are usually taken up last because developments at other airlines in the interim will affect bargaining here.