Union’s Critical Blunder: Turning Down 17% Pay Raise Leaves American Airlines Crew Struggling

American Airlines and flight attendants are down to the wire in negotiations. They’re meeting with federal mediators next week in Washington, D.C. in what the union calls a “last ditch” effort.

The National Mediation Board doesn’t want to authorize a strike, which is bad for the economy and will be unpopular with travelers before the election. There would be pressure on the President to halt the strike, as Bill Clinton did with American Airlines pilots (and pressured both American and flight attendants to agree to arbitration), but he’d be in an impossible position because interfering with a strike would be seen by his labor supporters as betrayal.

The airline has increased its financial offer, the union has moderated theirs, but they’re still far apart it seems not just on wages but also on retro pay and work rules.

On Wednesday the airline went directly to employees and told them that – with the union’s permission, which is required – they would immediately raise pay 17% and implement Delta’s profit sharing formula. This would be outside of contract negotiations, and would not require giving up anything, it would just mean bigger checks while negotiations continue. Naturally it’s aimed at avoiding a strike while negotiations continue.

As I wrote to expect, this angered the union. The union board unanimously rejected it.

Today, American Airlines CEO Robert Isom released a video detailing a company proposal to offer an immediate 17% pay increase on June 1, 2024, without reaching an agreement on a complete contract. This proposal was sent to APFA yesterday afternoon. Management was informed that we would discuss the offer with the APFA Board of Directors.

…Management should focus on reaching an agreement with APFA rather than concocting schemes to take the pressure off.

The APFA Board of Directors unanimously rejects management’s proposal and encourages, in the strongest way possible, the company to put all of its attention towards reaching an agreement with our Union and avoiding a crippling strike.

Aside from the fact that the union has been emphasizing how much flight attendants need the money – that they haven’t seen a pay increase since January 1, 2019, that their wages have been eroded by inflation, and that starting pay is quite low – and this would have delivered more pay to struggling flight attendants immediately without committing the union to anything at all – turning down the immediate raise is bad strategy.

  1. Gives up moral outrage. Flight attendants can no longer complain about qualifying for food stamps. That was imposed on them by the union.

  2. Blunder in negotiating the best deal. They could have taken the 17%, and are still bargaining over the 11% additional wage gap in their positions. And American will no longer be able to say they are giving ‘most of’ what flight attendants are asking for.

    American’s current offer is ‘no additional wage increases’ beyond the 17% (just boarding pay, greater retirement contributions) but at that point why would flight attendants agree to a new contract that includes changes the airline wants? The airline is starting from zero but still faces the possibility of a strike. American’s deal forces the airline to up its offer. Mid-contract raises ultimately led to mechanics getting more in their deal not less.

  3. Doesn’t actually increase flight attendant leverage. The union didn’t take it because they think it means the National Mediation Board would wait longer to release them negotiations if they accepted. The unaccepted offer could have that same effect. The board wants any excuse not to have a major airline strike especially right before a presidential election.

  4. American’s offer would have made a strike more costly. If/when flight attendants execute CHAOS strike (skipping specific flights each day, not doing a full walkout – which is what they’ve talked about), the airline would be paying most flight attendants even as customers booked away. This would have raised the cost to the airline imposed by the strike. The strike would have been 17% more costly in terms of flight attendant wages American is still paying.

The smart thing would have been to take the money since nothing was required in exchange – it was literally just allowing the airline to increase paychecks without a new contract or accepting any company terms whatsoever. You don’t leave free money on the table especially when you… need the money. This would have set a new baseline to negotiate upwards from.

There are still four days mediated bargaining next week to see what’s next. Flight attendants are being told to prepare to skip credit card payments. A strike is not clearly better than taking higher pay and continuing to negotiate.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Dude. We were struggling before that. We are used to the struggle because they have put it off for so long. Taking that raise would have put our contract further behind and left us with our current terrible work rules forced on us by the last contract. Also, we would not receive the good work rules from the contract until they finally finalize it. We can wait. We’d rather wait now than later. Also, what he did was unionbusting at its finest. Our union speaks for us. He should not be negotiating outside of it.

  2. I suggest you do your research when commenting on labor union negotiations.

  3. Glen & James, you don’t know our side of the story. If you knew the details hopefully you’d think differently

  4. Take their meager raise now so they can burn u all in the remaining bargaining talks. Maybe the author of this article received some free airfare to bash the union head’s negotiations.

  5. This is a gross simplification of the situation and shows complete ignorance about how our bargaining process works it also shows a complete lack of understanding of the ramifications such a deal would create in the bargaining process. If you had bothered to speak with any current American line flight attendants you would know we overwhelmingly support the APFA Board of Directors decision

  6. I think it’s a shame that the union is literally holding the flight attendants hostage at this point… The company never said this would replace the contract, they know they have an obligation to get it done. So…the union / flight attendants who voted this increase down just shot themselves in the foot and are continuing to hurt their own work group. They can’t complain anymore. And they always talk about caring for their fellow employees, but this shows otherwise and don’t see them offering a place to live to newhires if they get evicted, if things are as bad as they say. Sad state of affairs. Good luck…

  7. These airline gossip blogs get 90% of their traffic by writing disgusting and inflammatory remarks about the flight attendant profession. It is sad that flight attendants take the bait and try arguing with these low life trolls. These types of blogs are filled with some of the most bigoted, homophonic, sexist and vile comments. Gary and rest of you trolls are simply disgusting excuses for human beings

  8. What this article fails to address is that this offer was an obvious attempt to circumvent the section 6 bargaining process and that is in direct violation of NMB protocol. Isom had 5 years to make such a goodwill effort but waited until the strike rhetoric is amping up and his own blunders are in question to pretend to give a rats ass. This is a classic union busting tactic but apparently you couldn’t be bothered to do the research required to realize that.

  9. I would expect American to introduce a new term of back wages of 17% and profit sharing from June 1 2024 until the new contract offer, in their next offer to the flight attendants. Maybe even back pay for boarding. This would get back pay into the offer, and allow negotiations over the terms of the back pay instead of whether there is any back pay at all. It might even be enough to keep the Union from getting released to strike. An associated SEC filing would be needed.

    I think it would be part of the AA playing hardball, but for an airline that gets it’s profits from credit cards, there’s not much money for wages or back pay. Some of that loss of profitability comes from business decisions of AA for which competitors made different decisions, and without input from flight attendants, but that still doesn’t help profitability.

    One wonders if United and it’s flight attendants might accept such an offer of an immediate raise while waiting for American to finish it’s contract negotiations for use as another input. But, it would be best agreed with the Union before making public announcements. They could even add a one-time payment as a down payment towards back pay, to further put a shiv into American’s negotiation flexibility.

  10. Please use your platform to share BOTH sides of the story, after lengthy research. This was a ploy by AA to gain sympathy from unsuspecting, uneducated on the issue people such as yourself. And you fell for it.

  11. Gary, if you think that the 17% offered “would not require giving up anything” then you’re more naive than I’d previously thought. That or you’re being purposefully ignorant, which would be even worse.

    Maybe just stick to hawking credit cards, and leave commenting on labor negotiations to those who know what they’re talking about.

  12. Scary times for both parties, AA flight operations are not profitable and they can’t afford to increase expenses on the lowest rung on the scale the FA’s. What is the union planning to do when AA files another bankruptcy and needs to reduce the cost of the labor agreements? FA’s need to take a hard look at their skills and see if they can make more than starvation wages in another industry. That said, I’ll bet there are 5 to 10 applicants for every FA job opening that comes up so there is a long line of replacements waiting in the wings….

  13. They are greedy, standard for flight attendsmt are low a high school graduate. Yet the salary start at 30/hour and demanding fat paycheck while working little hours. Craziness ar best

  14. I just love how @Gary still uses a photo of NON-FA employees as his stories leading photo on his main page….you’d think such an “insider” would know the differences between the uniforms.

  15. @Krystal
    I fly onboard a lot of AA flights. It’s my onboard experiences and not Gary’s articles that make me unsympathetic toward AA flight attendants.

  16. I wonder when passengers will start to see service commensurate with EXISTING pay rates, let alone anything additional from a new contract.

  17. What I don’t understand is the boohoo by FA members and blame everything on the company when their union negotiated this crap deal and brought it to their members for a vote and it passed. I’m a mechanic and every day I’m dealing with out right sabotage of AC by FAs. Warning Lights and lenses completely missing from galleys is their latest. I told an FA this is a federal offense and could get serious jail time if caught. She laughed at me.

  18. So sick of hearing flight attendants ALWAYS begging for more. It’s sad. YOU knew the terms when you were hired. If you don’t like the pay or work rules, then QUIT. I don’t see you guys standing up in large numbers to protest what you feel is “fair.” You just jump on “socials” and the Internet and complain. Bunch of 5-year-olds. Grow up.

  19. This is why unions are more or less obsolete every single person sitting on that Union board makes 10 times what their Union worker makes. They really don’t care about the union worker and all honesty they care about their union dues.

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