American’s Flight Attendants Union Sticks It To Its Junior Members

When current American Airlines management ran US Airways they were notorious for bad labor relations. They never managed to get a single pilot contract for America West and US Airways pilots, so never completed the merger. Instead they sat back and benefited from lower wages as the two pilots groups fought against each other.

Now American’s flight attendants may wind up fighting against each other, as two classes of employees within the union are treated very differently. This, as the flight attendants are ostensibly in new contract negotiations with the airline and as there’s a move afoot to dump the current Association of Professional Flight Attendants with the Association of Flight Attendants-Communications Workers Of America.

With only a fraction of American Airlines flights scheduled to operate in May, the union has determined that the most junior flight attendants will have to fly while senior flight attendants will be paid not to work. That’s the reverse of the usual procedure, where the most senior members of a union are assigned to work first.

In a highly unusual move, the union that represents some 28,000 flight attendants at American Airlines has decided that its most junior members will be the ones who are expected to work flights throughout the month of May with more senior flight attendants paid up to 70-hours of flying time but not actually working any flights. Normally, the flight attendant contract requires trip bids to be assigned in strict seniority order.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) told its members in an internal update that a reduction in normal flying hours in May by as much as 80 per cent meant there simply wasn’t enough flights to go around. The PBS bidding system that builds flight attendant schedules works on assigning every crew member a roster with at least 75 to 85 flying hours but this clearly isn’t achievable.

The outdated IT system, however, can’t be reprogrammed easily to account for the reduced flying hours so a decision had to be made as to which flight attendants weren’t even going to have the option to bid for trips.

I believe the correct way to handle this situation would be:

  • Flight attendants first volunteer to work
  • Non-working flight attendants see reduced pay, with that money used to fund higher ‘hazard pay’ for those who volunteer.

Instead junior flight attendants will have to work, and risk discipline for calling out, while more senior flight attendants will collect guaranteed minimum pay without having to work at all (though higher than usual amounts of sick and personal time requests by working flight attendants will likely call more than usual off of reserve).

The decision by the union to advantage some members over others is hardly new at the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. The union faces a similar issue in its contract negotiations over schedule flight attendants for trips versus working reserve, and whether that should be done strictly based on seniority or a mix where everyone gets both scheduled trips and waiting time.

These sorts of issues divide a membership, improve the company’s relative bargaining position, and risk an outside union like AFA-CWA from becoming an attractive alternative for disenfranchised workers. For now the risk is small – with less than 20% of flights operating, the number of flight attendants working is small, however if this same approach prevails as the airline’s schedule returns it could create a real problem holding the union together.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I can’t say I have a strong opinion about this, but think about it: the entire principle of “union seniority” is that the more senior you are in the company, the better off you are. Now you and I might prefer a merit based system instead, but unions don’t work on merit, they work on seniority.
    So now we have the reverse of a normal situation. Normally, the senior employees want to work, and they want to work the best flights. So they get first pick. But the economics have now completely reversed: you can get paid to NOT work, and working is scary and, perhaps, a bit dangerous. So isn’t the union really only doing what they “should” be doing? I can’t say I’m outraged at all.

  2. YEA! Death to the unions! It’s the 21st century and the non-union companies are doing more for their employees then and the so called unions that are to protect them. Nothing new except people are getting smarter and asking “hey, does paying dues get me anything except a lower pay check?” The answer is of course NO! DL FA’s are the best paid and happy with their jobs which shows in their service. AA could be there soon if they finally can kill off the union.

    Okay union lovers. . .fire away. I married into a union family 30 years ago and toward the end, even my machinist father-in-law questioned what they had become and wondered if we needed them still. Again NO! Union NO!

  3. The union’s position is entirely consistent with the principle of seniority. Other unios would do the same in all likelihood. More senior FAs get paid without working whereas junior FAs must sing for their supper. “Hazard pay” for doing normal work sends the wrong messages to FAs and customers.

  4. I hope this seals the fate of the APFA for American’s FA’s. There are a dozen ways to handle this, and they seem to have picked the absolute worst. The APFA’s long history misjudgements and poor leadership continues.

    Volunteering, or giving working Junior FA’s a fast-track to seniority (ie each flight during high-risk times worked gives a bonus/multiplier towards seniority) are super quick fixes.

  5. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) has a long history of sticking it to fellow union members. Just ask any TWA flight attendant how they were treated by the APFA.

  6. Proves yet again regardless of what U.S. airline … Flight Attendants are bunch of cry babies which is the reason SERVICE in the U.S. is the worse in the industry hands down.

    Flight Attendants should walk around with baby bids since they act that way no matter what the issue is !!

  7. How in the world is this in AA corporate interests? They know they have too many senior FAs regardless of the current situation and should be doing everything possible to get them to move on and they go and do things like this. So bizarre.

  8. Maybe you should be blaming this inept management team who should have done many things weeks ago to head of the IT issues but did nothing. They put the union in an untenable position, no matter what they decided it was sure to make someone unhappy. Team Tempe needs to go.0

  9. i am 30 years and i still do not have seniority. Listen it s pure discrimination regarding seniors should leave. we seniors have worked thru the company’s BS and the union not doing there job. Airlines run thru seniority and we work to earn it. I have juniors say awful things and they think they are privileged new age. Hope you didn’t n t have an emergency with a junior or a violent attack. we seniors handle this because of are years of training and dealing with a lot of things. SO we are not winners we work HARD and have put in ours years. When you start at the bottom you are told what to expect. The company has taken a lot from people who work and the juniors can take a leave so even though you are a airline expect you are clueless in this article get the FACTS straight.

  10. Its valid that the union’s position is consistent with the concept of seniority. HOWEVER, the contract delineates that all lines will be awarded based on seniority—as it is every month. Additionally, if there were only a certain number of hours a month, they should have been split evenly and everyone should be required to do their part.

  11. It is called seniority dufus. The longer you work the better you have it. APFA should have been focused on seniority all along. They have been a company union for years. Let these new people understand what is really like working during troubled times in the airline industry. Let see if they last 35 + years when things are not so pretty. JR flight attendants have been paid for years not to fly collecting money. I think you need a new job Mr. Leff.

  12. This is an untenable situation for everyone. Anyone high risk (age or medical condition) should not be required to fly. Those remaining should be given the option, some seniors might want to fly, some juniors might need to fly (common knowledge in the industry is juniors don’t make a lot of money). With the schedule being reduced, it might be possible for almost everyone to get what they want. American and it’s flight attendant union has been dysfunctional for years and it won’t improve anytime soon. Most airline people prefer having a union. Delta has never wanted a flight attendant union and have acted accordingly by paying their flight attendants well (pilots are unionized). It’s a great system monetarily just don’t get on someone’s bad side because you could find yourself with no job and no recourse. As for TWA employees, we were shafted by both the company and the union, enough said.

  13. This is why unions suck. The unions are made of senior flight attendants and they cater to their own needs. They are all line holders and I’ve never seen a union with reserves. That’s why the first years of being a flight attendant is literally hell. Thanks to the unions.

  14. Being an international purser for over 30 years for a major airline, I would never work for an airline that was nonuniion! This is only setting yourself up for being physically abused at the company’s call ! You have no guidelines for your safety so they can abuse and overwork you and you have NO say ! As for Delta FA’s being nonunion ….. there are many FA’s that are not happy ! The pilots are union at Delta …. so what does that tell you ? These are very scary times for our industry right now !

  15. Seniority is everything at an airline and within a union group. And what has been presented to you is not accurate. Who are your sources for this article? Gary, have you read the JCBA at AA?? Have you seen its application and know the legal past practice? If not, this is not your place to comment on a collective bargaining agreement. FURTHER–and even more to the point, PAID LEAVES were offered to everyone–with the right to file for supplemental unemployment and CARES act unemployment. NO ONE is being forced to fly and AA has made it a policy that anyone who wants a leave, can get one. NONE OF THIS IS FAIR…people are dying, including airline employees who have worked the front line. At a stressful, horrendous time in our nation’s history and in aviation, this article is tone-deaf, inaccurate and only stirring the pot.

  16. Funny, based upon my experience in business and first on international trips, the senior FA’s were also being paid to not work.

  17. Previously this union stuck it to the senior Flight Attendants by having them rotate reserve, meaning-every 4th month of the year a senior Flight Attendant sits reserve while someone with 2 yrs, sometimes less gets his or her schedule, this happens 3 times a year….It’s a pay cut for the senior flight attendant and a bitch slap in the face! Write about that!

  18. Previously this union stuck it to the senior Flight Attendants by having them rotate reserve, meaning-every 4th month of the year a senior Flight Attendant sits reserve while someone with 2 yrs, sometimes less gets his or her schedule, this happens 3 times a year….It’s a pay cut for the senior flight attendant and a bitch slap in the face!

  19. At 28 years seniority I am one of those that will either be pulled on reserve or be flying the trips. Depending on your base a “junior” cAn also be someone who Is not very junior to the real world.

  20. Am I missing something in all of these comment responses? Or did most people just look at the headline and not the article? It seems the unseemly part is that rather than dividing up all of the flights among the entire staff, so that maybe each FA would take, say, one trip, they have an IT limitation so that you’ll have many senior flight attendants working zero flights while junior flight attendants work full normal months. That’s where the unfairness comes in.

  21. As a fA at a large Non union airline for over 30 years I am so thankful not to have to deal with this crap.

  22. So they stuck it to me at 30 years! I’m on the “go to work” list!! Fake news!

  23. I’m one of those “junior” flight attendants. I could have been furloughed (like I was following 9/11), but my union lobbied Congress and helped saved my job for, at least, the next 6 months. I’m happy to be working. Only an ungrateful whiner would think the union “stuck it” to me.

  24. the airlines need a mandatory retirement age for flight attendants. I wouldnt feel safe being in an evacuation with an 70+ year old flight attendant. Plus they are all cranky and miserable the older they get. Concierge key for years before switching to Delta based on the nagging old flight attendants at AA

  25. I’ve been in the industry for 33+ years now. Bottom line is that seniority rules. That is what a union contract is all about. We must all pay our dues. Their day will come.

  26. Gary, with full respect, your facts are incorrect. You did not mention any of the American Corp. side of the story. Like the PBS System, the talks between the union and the company to try and come up with a solution that was fair. Next time, please write an article that shares the whole story not just one side. Thank you!

  27. With almost no flights operating at this time the ability to evenly divide a workload that only requires 2,000 amongst 30,000 people is understandably tricky. AA and their union may need to look at what other major airlines like UA/DL are doing and take note.
    1) continue to offer and quickly approve voluntary leaves of absence

    2) create a deadline to apply for an early retirement or separation
    program with either limited continued benefits or potentially a small severance package

    3) put whatever flight attendants that are left on straight reserve with the lowest contractual pay guarantee (typically 71hrs)

    Those strategies seem to do away with any kind of internal rivalries of junior vs senior, creates huge flexibility for crew scheduling to alter their staffing needs and it also adds merit to the culture of a company and their FA’s by showing that in times of trouble we communicate and come together to evenly pull our weight.

    It’s surprising how many junior FA’s who have never been passionate about this career will choose to leave and pursue their degrees or side careers for a small severance check and continued flight benefits. Many senior FA’s will either take a LOA or simply retire just to avoid the drama and potential illnesses associated with this line of close contact work.

  28. Gary, where were you 43 years ago when I first started flying ..You should of seen the conditions we had to work under..
    Stop babying these juniors today.
    They have a good job with good pay and there treated much better then us years ago.
    And they don’t have to stay . There are a thousand people who would love the job.
    Seniority Rules..

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