American Airlines flight attendants have been in protracted negotiations over a new contract. Cabin crew voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The airline and union met for federal mediation talks on Friday, and the union set that as a deadline for significant progress. They said that after the meeting the union board would hold a strike vote.
This afternoon, your APFA Negotiating Committee met with your Board of Directors to brief them on the status of negotiations, including the next step: a request to the National Mediation Board to release us into a thirty-day cooling-off period.
On Monday, November 20th, we will communicate information regarding this week’s negotiations and next steps, including the APFA Board of Director’s action on the request to the NMB to be released to strike.
American Airlines flight attendants are on the picket line at LGA and across the country demanding a fair contract.
It is unacceptable that some of the same attendants who care for us the skies must resort to sleeping in cars because their pay is so low.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 17, 2023
The union suggests they will be asking the National Mediation Board to release them from negotiations, starting a 30 day ‘cooling off’ period that would allow them to strike.
- If the request is formally made right away
- And the request is formally granted right away
- Then they’d be striking over the peak Christmas holiday period
As I wrote last month I still do not expect a Christmas strike.
- The National Mediation Board may take until, say, December 4 to release the union from negotiations – especially with the Thanksgiving holiday upon us. That would push any strike past Christmas.
- The NMB may not authorize the strike yet at all, telling flight attendants to stay at the bargaining table if they feel there’s progress still being made in negotiations.
- A ‘no’ or ‘delay’ seem more likely than ‘immediate authorization’, putting President Biden in a position of either intervening to prevent a strike or enduring a major airline strike over Christmas.
Even if flight attendants were to strike, they do not plan to do so in a way that shuts down the airline – just one that makes the airline less reliable, and pushes customers to book away to other airlines.
Since flight attendants aren’t financially in a position to strike for an extended period, and the union isn’t in a financial position to provide significant strike pay to workers, they’ll just walk off of a limited number of flights on specific days – to limit the hardship of workers who don’t collect pay when they do not work, while communicating that any given American Airlines flight might not operate (which is always true, given weather and mechanical vagaries).
An airline strike at Christmas, which the President is empowered to prevent, is not going to happen – because the President won’t want to incur unpopularity heading into an election from allowing the strike, but also won’t want to move against a union, so the most likely outcome is that the National Mediation Board punts to prevent putting him in that position.
While the National Mediation Board is an independent agency, two of its three board members were appointed or re-nominated by the Biden administration. The current chair, confirmed during the Biden administration, is a former attorney for the largest flight attendants union.
American Airlines is offering a pay comparable to Delta’s, though profit sharing will be lower because American earns less profit. American’s flight attendants want substantially more than current top of industry pay from an airline that just this week added a billion dollars of debt at 8.5% interest and lost money in the third quarter.
I’d note that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim about American Airlines flight attendants ‘sleeping in cars’ and separately about sleeping ‘eight to a room’ has to do with “crash pads” rather than primary residences, where crew share lodging near the airport when they live in a city that’s different from the one where they’re based for work.