Flight attendants at Piedmont Airlines, a regional carrier owned entirely by American Airlines, are going to vote on whether or not to authorize a strike between September 23 and October 21, 2021.
Piedmont has been in negotiations with flight attendants for three years. Much progress would have been paused during the pandemic, since the future of even the broader airline along many margins hasn’t always been clear. However, a vote for a strike won’t mean a strike.
- The National Mediation Board hasn’t released the parties to self-help, the union cannot strike and the company can’t lock them out. The status quo contract prevails through negotiations still.
- A strike authorization gives the power to union leadership to strike, it doesn’t mean they’ll use it.
While the union’s leadership is asking for this authorization they’re simultaneously telling members not to expect one – or at least that voting for one doesn’t mean it’ll happen. That helps them get the authorization, but undermines the credibility of the strike threat. And what they want is a credible threat in negotiations.
Voting “FOR” a strike is the best way to ensure there will not be a strike. A strong strike vote will show management that we mean business. They need to understand the only alternative to giving us the contract that we deserve is to deal with a flight attendant strike.
According to schedule data from Cirium Diio Mi, Piedmont is operating an average of 264 flights a day this month across 83 city pairs:
- 40 to and from Philadelphia
- 25 to and from Charlotte
- 15 to and from Chicago O’Hare
- 3 to and from Boston
They operate 50 seat regional jets, between 12 and 23 years old, largely to smaller cities or on less trafficked routes. These are all aircraft without internet or seat power.
The problem that Piedmont flight attendants face in negotiations is that they have very little leverage. American hasn’t yet been able to drop routes they fly throughout most of the pandemic, as a condition of receiving $10 billion in federal subsidies. Those restrictions lift at the end of the month.
Small town flying out of Philadelphia is of less importance right now without long haul flights to connect to, and Philadelphia has been relatively slow to regrow capacity. It’s American’s transatlantic connecting hub.
In Boston American has JetBlue as a partner, and its flights to Syracuse and Rochester aren’t that crucial on their own. They can bring larger regional jets from other carriers into Charlotte and Chicago to make up some of the losses in flights.
Flight attendants have far less leverage than pilots, because pilots can bring down an airline through their operational decisions and because pilots are difficult to replace. Airlines rarely try to do it – A much smaller United Airlines had a plan to do it in 1985 but even there the best-case scenario had them taking almost a year, and that’s without the pilot shortage we’ve seen in more recent years. Last month Piedmont’s pilots got a big raise.
I have a lot of sympathy for what flight attendants are dealing with in the air these days, and flight attendants working on regional carriers work more takeoffs and landings on average on less comfortable equipment – in this case planes that only recently even got HEPA air filtration. But flight attendants at one out of several regional carriers in the American Airlines portfolio aren’t playing a strong hand.