The American Airlines flight attendants union asked the federal National Mediation Board to declare an impasse in their bargaining over a new contract. That’s required under the Railway Labor Act in order to begin to strike.
The union was asking for this now so that the 30 day waiting (“cooling off”) period would expire during everyone’s Christmas travels – to inflict the most damage on American, if they didn’t agree to 50% wage increases.
I’ve written that no Christmas strike would happen. One of two outcomes would occur,
- The National Mediation Board would wait until at least December 4 to respond to the union’s request, so that any strike happened after holiday travel.
- The National Mediation Board would send the union back to the bargaining table. While American hasn’t met union wage demands, progress has continued in other areas of their contract through various bargaining sessions. The NMB would consider there not to be an ‘impasse’ yet, as they did with Southwest Airlines pilots over the summer.
And it’s this second that happened. The National Mediation Board denied the union’s request for release from negotiations.
I’d love to see flight attendants get better pay. I’d love to see American insist on greater service accountability in exchange for that higher pay. But flight attendants don’t have nearly the leverage of pilots or even mechanics. And the amounts they’re asking for are out of line with the industry, and they’re asking it of an airline that is poorly positioned to pay it. American has more debt, and lower profits, than competitors.
- Flight attendants aren’t really in a position to strike, since most cannot afford to go without pay and the union doesn’t have the coffers to fund significant strike pay. Instead all the union is really planning is wildcat strikes, focused on specific flights on specific days – so that only a handful of crewmembers give up pay and only on specific days rather than for weeks on end.
- American isn’t likely to agree to richer terms than what any other airline offers. They’re already offering to match Delta pay (though since American is less profitable than Delta, actual profit sharing would be lower). If the union wants a better deal, they should wait for United flight attendants to strike a bargain and then work to improve on that.
- Since flight attendants aren’t likely to get retro pay back to when their contract became amendable, as pilots generally do, the longer they go without raises the worse off they are financially. Delay benefits the airline, not flight attendants, since American pays lower wages while this drags on.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants is railing against the National Mediation Board and its decision. But the board is dominated by Biden administration picks (2-1), and includes a former lawyer for a flight attendants union. This is not a group biased against labor, or against cabin crew.
They weren’t going to hand the Biden administration a holiday hot potato heading into holiday travel and re-election, though. It was poor strategy on the part of the union to ask for release with this schedule in mind, or to do it while other contract issues were in fact seeing progress.
They either need to wait out a better deal from a competitor, or do something now and make it as short a deal as possible (to lock in higher wages rather than foregoing higher pay until a new deal is done), and plan for the next one.
Meanwhile, the union says that they plan to ask to strike again after their December 12-14 mediation session, if the airline doesn’t give them what they’re after.