Staged Command Center And A Secret Agenda: What’s Behind American Airlines Flight Attendant Strike Threat?

The American Airlines flight attendants union set up a strike command center. The idea was for them to look ready to strike and signal to their membership that the union was prepared.

  • But the phones in the photos weren’t even all plugged in.
  • The strike line is not even answered in the APFA offices. I understand that it is answered by people working from home so the command center phone bank didn’t even represent how things would work.
  • The command center was also supposedly taking calls from flight attendants, but was staged as part of promoting a message to cabin crew that hadn’t been sent out yet.

APFA Strike Command Center

The union wants a strike so badly that they refused to allow American Airlines to increase flight attendant pay by 17% without having to agree to anything in return. It would have set a new, higher baseline for negotiations and given them leverage. But they were afraid flight attendants wouldn’t be as motivated against the company.

Who does a strike benefit most, though? I’m increasingly worried that American Airlines flight attendants are being led down a bad path for someone else’s agenda.

While American Airlines flight attendants have their own independent union, The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, they are borrowing AFA-CWA’s chief negotiator Joe Burns.

  • Both Alaska and United are AFA-CWA unions currently in negotiations. Their top guy is detailed to negotiate for American, which isn’t part of AFA. Why are they sending their lead in for American? AFA knows that whatever deal APFA gets with American is leverage for flight attendants elsewhere to get a better deal, since American goes first and is threatening their strikes first.

  • AFA, then, doesn’t want American’s APFA moving slowly, taking mid-negotiation raises. They want American flight attendants to strike and get a contract done because that sets the bar for their own negotiations without their own union members having to strike. American flight attendants can be seen as cannon fodder for flight attendants at other airlines, represented by a different union.

  • 32 Democratic Senators signed onto a letter demanding the National Mediation Board release flight attendant unions from negotiations. Obviously the one that’s relevant right now is APFA.

    APFA doesn’t have the muscle to get 32 Senators to sign a letter. AFA does. Is AFA-CWA running the politics of this possible strike, too? And notice also that the Senate letter talked about 100,000 flight attendants in negotiations (so was as much about United and Alaska, though also exaggerating the number), and not primarily American flight attendants.

It looks like AFA is running not just the contract negotiations but also strike strategy and politics for American Airlines APFA, and doing so for benefit of their own negotiations. To be sure, if American flight attendants get a good deal that’s good for them – but it’s not American flight attendants they owe a duty to and it’s not their flight attendants being asked to strike.

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. all good points.
    Unions are about power, not about helping people.
    All of the AA FAs that frequent this board should never forget this.

    And it is very possible that AA knows what is at stake and is ready to break the union and get its FA costs down to ULCC levels – in line w/ how many perceive their service.

    AA simply cannot afford the demands APFA is making. Perhaps the APFA should have seen the deteriorating finances at AA years ago and accepted something more realistic back then.

    And if AA succeeds at breaking the union, the AFA will fail miserably at AS and UA and elsewhere.

    and no one has to guess which team Scott Kirby is cheering for.

  2. Interesting theory. It makes sense.

    As much as I personally like our leadership at APFA today, I ultimately believe that it should be absorbed into AFA anyway as I believe that there’s strength in numbers.

    I can’t think of a good reason why we shouldn’t merge with AFA.

    I believe that today is the last day for this round of intense negotiations. I hope for an update later today or at some point tomorrow.

  3. I hope they strike and get a large deal so AA can turn around and file chapter 11 and void everyone’s contract.

  4. Tim Dunn — I wholeheartedly disagree with your opinion that unions are about power, or whatever.

    The PEOPLE have spoken and WE have collectively chosen our union.

    Give us the option to get rid of our union or not, I guarantee you that we’ll choose to keep our Union every time. This is beyond just contract negotiations, as well.

    Another great example is how pay scales are set and equal amongst colleages. In the past when I didn’t have a union job, you had no idea if your employer was paying your colleagues more than you… Effectively ripping you off.

    I refuse to ever have a non-unionized job ever again

  5. Tim Dunn — It’s great to have an entity that’s proactively advocating on your behalf and calling out unfair corporate behavior… Again… Not only about contract negotiations.

    It’s great to have an entity to voice your objections to.

  6. “I wholeheartedly disagree with your opinion that unions are about power, or whatever.”

    “Those who tell you of trade-unions bent on raising wages by moral suasion alone are like people who tell you of tigers that live on oranges.” Henry George, 1891

    Unions are built on the perception of violence and coercion. They do not support free choice and represent the antithesis of freedom.

  7. The Galley Llama:
    “I…disagree that unions are about power”

    Also The Galley Llama:
    “All the things I like about the union are about power”

    Only bad employees care about what their coworkers earn. The rest of the world makes a voluntary and mutually beneficial agreement between employer and employee based on the value each brings. If you have value, you have options if your employer won’t pay you what you’re worth. If you have no value, you join a union and hang on to an entry level job for life.

    Unions don’t want to reward good employees, and don’t want to punish bad employees. This kind of system, like many socialist policies in our society systematically, holds back the advancement of the human race by encouraging failure, stupidity, and lack of productivity. Congrats, Llama, you’re dead weight to society.

  8. Mantis is exactly right about the Galley LLama.

    She has already drank the Kool-Aid

  9. @Galley Llama

    “The PEOPLE have spoken and WE have collectively chosen our union.”

    You realize AA Flight Attendants haven’t voted on whether they want to be union-represented in… DECADES?
    While it’s technically possible, it’s nearly impossible for “the PEOPLE” to vote a union out under current RLA and NMB law/rules. Especially with all the union nonsense of threatening and intimidating those that don’t want a union. That’s the entire reason Right to Work legislation exists in some states (not federally) to allow those uninterested in a union to opt out. And it’s quite popular legislation in AA’s home state.

    You’ve voted on items the union wants you to vote on (and only that because they don’t allow other votes) but the PEOPLE at AA haven’t voted on union representation in DECADES

    APFA is responsible for ratifying and endorsing contracts that make new hire flight attendants poor. They chose to give money to their senior members and, as usual, per union leadership they threw new hires to the wolves.

    Unions do many great things for their members but no one should kid themselves about the oft self-serving nature of their leadership, particularly AFA which, as gary mentions, is happily throwing APFA members out on the street to protect their own members in AFA.

  10. @Galley Llama … So , strike already . This soap opera has gone on for a long time . What is holding you back ?

    @Tim Dunn … Without unions , workers would have no voice . That IS helpful to people .

  11. Think I’ve experienced Galley LLama several times or FAs who have her mind set. Probably a senior FA who gets all the benefits and does as little as possible.

  12. As I’ve written before, these airline unions are bad for everyone, including the employees. But that’s what government bequeathed to the industry 90 years ago, so here we are. I still think a strike is extremely improbable at American, since the 3 parties involved (labor, company and government) don’t want one. The union is weak, and AA has shown a consistent willingness to “overpay” (what they’d pay in a free market) their employees. A strike also makes Biden look bad. I’d guess there’s no greater than a 10% chance of a strike, and it’s only that high because I don’t have much confidence in the capability of the union leadership. Flight attendant unions are notorious for bad judgment, and they’ve consistently adhered to that pattern.

  13. Foxtrot Uniform, Jj. Read that as you will. Why should I, as a AMT at American Airlines, have my contract voided? I have a technical skill and knowledge that keeps the flying public safe and better yet, alive. The disparity between my labor group and the pilot group is WAY too big. When the layman shoots his mouth off about the importance of the pilot’s responsibility for “200 lives”, does he consider the fact that the mechanic has 202 lives in his hands? Frankly, the gap between my skill group and those of the baggage handler, FA, cleaner, stock clerk, etc. needs to widen in a big way and the gap between maintenance and the pilot group needs to shrink. I don’t mean to get too far off topic here but, you demonizing every unionized labor group is B.S.. Some do want top dollar for nothing in return. Some actually deserve to be fairly compensated for their contributions. I have been a AMT for 35 years and believe it or not, I have never shirked my responsibility, nor will I, to the flying public. I will not give a less than airworthy aircraft to pilot, despite the fact that he’s making 5 times the money per hour than I am. I , and my fellow mechanics, have a deep sense of pride in our work and will not and cannot do less than our best, even when treated like second class citizens by the company. AA hates labor as much as you do.

  14. I frankly and overwhelmingly agree with Tim Dunn. Unions have long ago forgotten about who they support and have usurped their members only to gain power for themselves as well as their politics or choices.

    In this day and age they are virtually useless. The only unions gaining power today are employed by our government and those supporting them are doing so with the money of the taxpayers.

    Look up Chicago’s finances. It’s appalling what the politicians and unions have done to that city.

  15. Mantis, I’d hardly call my job “entry level”. Is this what you think of the vaunted pilots? They’re union too you know. Maybe you should pull that foot out of your mouth.

  16. @b787
    With respect
    No one is talking about AMTs
    It’s a discussion about APFA and whether flight attendants should compare their role, nearly absent training, with the role of pilots or mechanics that require incrementally (to say the least) training and licenses to perform work

    Couldn’t really opine what the right % comparison of a mechanic to pilot should be.
    Pilots require (usually)
    4 year undergrad degree
    After undergrad, Pilot training to 1500 hours (usually unpaid for that time but not always)
    Fly for a regional (usually) for subpar pay
    Then finally have the ability to start at yr1 mainline rates years after they started their career journey (and mainline yr1 fo rates aren’t much)

    Mechanics require about two years education/training then can find employment (not always at mainline to be fair with the bigger bucks)

    Given that, what do you think is the proper % payment of a pilot for an AMT?
    2 yrs vs around 8, at best? So 25% given training requirements (completely ignoring the massively disparate training costs between the two)

  17. Long time reAAder. First time commenter.

    You sir, are miserable. Do better with your reporting and less of stirring the pot for clicks and kicks.

  18. When we save someone’s life on board the aircraft due to medical problems, or have to evacuate a plane due to an emergency I guess that doesn’t matter? Our job has changed greatly after 9/11, and we didn’t have an option but to go to work during the pandemic because we were considered a necessary work group when it was convenient. In a lot of countries you can’t give yourself millions of dollars without earning it, and walking away after you put the company into a bankruptcy. The government comes in and saves the airlines, and ceo takes the cash. It’s taxpayers dollars, and it’s just WRONG! The middle class is shrinking, and it’s sad! It’s not just about the airlines. It’s the middle class vanishing before our eyes. Someone is collecting food stamps, and someone else is getting 31 mil and we have been without a contract for 5 years is not justified… nor morale or ethical.

  19. @Plane Jane … All the pilots , mechanics , cabin crew , ground service crew , are indispensable .

    None of the twinks in management are indispensable , (except the controller who signs the checks).

    Answer your question ?

  20. Gary, you have that tinfoil hat pulled down a bit too tightly over your noggin’. Really you need not worry your pretty little head over whether AA FAs are being led down the wrong path. You say the 17% raise has no strings attached but it does, you just don’t see it. At any point in time in the past year or so Isom could have made that offer but now only comes forward because the writing on the wall indicates that he may not be able to stall any longer. I have no proof, but perhaps bookings have started to soften, thus providing the catalyst for his offer.

  21. Oh that’s a hilarious photo, where the heck did they find a 40 year old Western Electric push button desk phone. That really is a staged photo.

    I actually have one, that’s how old I am!


  22. Little chance of the situation not having an affect on the election now. How much of an affect is to be determined.

  23. Hold on. Are you telling me that photo of a bunch of FA’s talking amongst themselves and using the phone is fake, and isn’t of a real AA flight crew in the air?

    In all seriousness, these folks need a massive raise. A lot of the 10-15 year olds that could fill in over the summer strike season will be working hard mowing lawns and selling lemonade.

  24. James N and Manthis — You are both wrong and its quite frankly bizarre that in you can twist a good thing, such as organized labor, into a negative.

    It’s as if… You believe workers are the PROPERTY of corporations.

    When slavery ended, it’s obvious that you two would have been advocating for the “rights” of the former slave owners. Yes, your arguments look THAT corrupt.

    Let me make myself clear, I stand by every last word of my comments.

    Don’t waste your time continuing and FAILING to gaslight me. My reality is definitely not going to change. I’m just responding to your collective nonsense.

  25. @alert
    Thanks for answering with no answer to facts or literally no answer to any data whatsoever
    You answer for everyone 😉

  26. Mantis — I sincerely don’t GAF what some random nobody like you has to say. Your opinions are irrelevant.

    Dead weight to society? It’s a good thing that people who think like you are dying off and people who think like me continue to rack up our wins so yes… On the fringes is where you shall remain.

    I know you fascist right wing dingbats enjoy trolling.

  27. Plane Jane — We just has more than 99% of our union membership authorize a strike so WTF are you talking about?

    We also just had a union election where all of the leadership in the APFA were re-elected.

    Have a seat.

  28. While the circus clowns here continue to be old men yelling at clouds and post hatred of Unions…

    Back on Earth One… Our union exists and its not going anywhere. It doesn’t need your approval. It needs OUR approval.

    We’ve made our decision and your approval is not required.

  29. @galley
    If you plan on replying with a thought
    Do it when you aren’t drunk and can reply with your repliers’ names correctly

    But you represent the stupidity of APFA Dying for nothing for AFA(that DOESN’T care about you) incredibly well

    Afa and United are just as far in mediation as AA and APFA

    Wake up

    AFA is using you
    Stop being an idiot and stop being a stoog for the afl-cio and AFA

    APFA, at its best; represents its members
    But now… They represent Afa interests and nothing more
    Afa could use United
    But you don’t hear a peep out of them
    Wake up
    Your paycheck is being used for a union you don’t even belong to
    Don’t give up your paycheck for a united FA
    Let them strike for the deal the afl-cio is in cahoots for

  30. @llama
    Last time FAs at aa voted for representation. Was decades ago

    Last time they voted on anything the union didn’t allow— decades ago

    Grow up
    You dont even realize what you’re allowed to vote on

    The irony is how you don’t realize how your own paycheck is utilized by a union that you’ll NEVER benefit from, the Afa and the afl-cio
    Wake up and smell the politics

  31. Let the afa strike; they’re just as far in mediation as aa but the apfa leadership has been too stupid to pull back when they should allow a big union, WITH MONEY TO FUND A STRIKE, do it

    Wake up aa FAs

    Don’t be stupid: an actual union WITH MONEY FOR FAs to strike, wants to save money at your expense. they’re in the FING AFL-CIO for crying out loud. They shouldn’t be using you to strike to save money

    AFA are the ones driving this
    It’s not even AA

    I hope you wake up but a comment section won’t save it…
    But god, your leadership is stupid

  32. All good points. Isom is weak. AA. should be posturing for labor wage cuts. $20/hr no benefits.

  33. Southwest would like a word Gary. Seems you’ve overlooked the contract leaders at the moment

  34. “It’s as if… You believe workers are the PROPERTY of corporations.” That’s a very ignorant statement. Nothing we wrote would imply that. I’m assuming you have free choice to choose your employer.

    “When slavery ended, it’s obvious that you two would have been advocating for the “rights” of the former slave owners.” Unfortunately, another ignorant statement. Ironically, I’m advocating for equal rights for all individuals, the exact opposite of what a union stands for.

    “I’m just responding to your collective nonsense.” Let’s talk about your particular nonsense. It’s difficult to imagine how someone who’s supposedly part of a union has obtained so little knowledge on the subject.

  35. @The Galley Llama “We just has more than 99% of our union membership authorize a strike ”

    remember that the vote was pitched as giving leverage to the union, which was supposed to pressure the company into a negotiated contract to avoid a strike

    and flight attendants HAVE TO vote to authorize a strike – if union leaders lose that vote they lose all power in negotiations.

    the vote to authorize a strike was not a vote to authorize a strike, it was a vote not to capitulate to the company in hopes of not having to strike.

  36. @PlaneJane That’s not how free enterprise works. Pay is not determined by doing your type of math. It’s about supply and demand. Sadly (to me), a Kardashian can make a mint with no real credentials. Some get PhDs in difficult subjects to make less than a plumber. That’s not right or wrong: that’s basic economics. How much should a mechanic make relative to a pilot? I’ll let the market determine that. (To be clear, other than Kardasians, I consider none of these profession to be better or worse.)

  37. @The Galley Llama. “While the circus clowns here continue to be old men yelling at clouds and post hatred of Unions…” So, let me get this right, I can ow belittle someone’s opinion by citing age or gender? Darn, now I have a comeback against young women. Oh, and trying to tie those who disagree with you with apologists for slave owners, wow, you sure travel the high road.
    That being said, while I contend unions act for their leaders not members with great frequency, the bashing of cabin crew here by a few is over the top.

  38. Classic union thug like tactics. While the union leaders are exploiting their own members for personal gain they’re costing their members money.

    AFPA doesn’t have the cash for strike pay. AA knows it.

  39. The American Airlines Flight Attendants are nothing but a conglomerate of clueless “fellow travelers” that two unions are using as pawns. Even since the mob from USAir got control, it’s been one dumpster fire after another. They would be better served to pony up with their counterparts at Delta and throw the union into the abyss where they belong.

  40. Gary, you have our done yourself this time by stirring up a hornet nest. The comments are fantastic on both sides. Grab the popcorn and the recliner as this column might be one for the books !!!

  41. Left out of this piece on my APFA pals is that AFA Alaska is inching closer to requesting a release from negotiations. Last I checked, AFA Alaska is part of the AFA union fleet. So the whole premise of AFA trying to control APFA doesn’t fit.

  42. The union just lost the 17% offered by the company! Unfortunately your not getting more then that due to current company financial conditions. Pilots basically broke the bank here. The company knows only 1/4 or so people will actually go on strike and there will be mass hiring to replace!

    The company may have operational issues for a few weeks but will fire all those who don’t come back! Keep in mind management can, and will fly flights left open. Not too hard to train people for the job!

    Good luck!

  43. Actually it does @Joe and I’ve written about Alaska negotiations recently, and this fits PERFECTLY. Alaska is nowhere close to being ACTUALLY RELEASED by the NMD. Having American flight attendants strike, and getting whatever they can get, sets a new floor in Alaska negotiations.

  44. I mean, they pulled out a red touch tone phone and put it front and center. If that doesn’t say urgent and official I don’t know what does.

  45. Josh, you obviously weren’t around in 1993. You also don’t work for AA. 25% will strike? You need to rethink that. Massive hiring? Our new hire and recurrent training instructors are F/As. I guess if we are to agree with your opinion, the company better get busy with train the trainer classes and none are being held. Educate yourself a bit more.

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