Julie Hedrick is the current President of the independent flight attendants union at American Airlines, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. She was a negotiator of the joint contract between American Airlines and US Airways flight attendants and the company – a deal the members rejected but was imposed on them as part of the merger.
She took over in her role this year leading a union that’s been cracking up and had squandered financial resources rather than building a war chest heading into negotiations on a new contract.
Now in the midst of the coronavirus crisis the union has been downright placating of the company. Watching Hedrick in a new video that’s come out right after the airline announced that flight attendant numbers will be reduced by 47% this fall, she blames furloughs exclusively on Covid, and says she wants government money.
In the old days a union facing this sort of bloodletting would blame… the company – suggesting they’re not doing enough to save jobs while paying themselves too much, how it’s management that got everyone into this mess (remember cross-town headquartered Southwest isn’t furloughing anybody). There’s not a single suggestion here that any executive has failed the APFA membership.
I mean, come on. If you’re going to be a union, be a union.
I’ve heard numerous reports of irregularities in the furlough process. At a minimum APFA should be having lawyers go through every company action, and then going to court to halt the layoffs for each and every violation of the Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Yet when I was putting pressure on American Airlines to stop disciplining flight attendants for wearing face masks, the union was largely silent even on that.
As a past concession the union agreed to foreign-based flight attendants who are less expensive to the company. Many U.S.-based flight attendants are angry that these American Airlines employees aren’t being cut first, let alone in proportion. I’ve seen that issue as a distriction – dividing employees against each other rather – but the union doesn’t even use the issue to play to its base.
So many fewer members means the union budget will be gutted. Furloughed members of the union are still billed for union dues, but the union doesn’t expect to receive that money – not paying just means not being eligible to vote in union elections, and when a flight attendant is recalled their past due balances are forgiven. By excluding junior members from voting in the union election that protects top union leadership even though they have less money to work with.
Meanwhile since the company will have already furloughed its members, they’ve shot the big gun they have in negotiations. The union no longer has that as a threat looming over them as pressure to agree to a concessionary contract. They can just refuse to agree to any contract changes and the status quo prevails. The company won’t lock them out, even a smaller American Airlines is too big to meaningfully operate on replacement workers. It’s unclear if the APFA realizes that yet or not.