American Airlines flight attendants are sticking “We Are Ready” tags on their bags, highlighting a willingness to strike for a better contract. But flight attendants aren’t actually ready.
It’s precisely because (1) flight attendants do not make very much, and (2) their union is weak and mismanaged that they are not in a position to endure a strike.
Most flight attendants can’t go without paychecks. They’re already living paycheck to paycheck. California is considering paying unemployment to workers who are on strike but that’s an outlier.
Thanks to infighting and graft they’ve been focused on internal misdeeds rather than building a union that could manage a strike. The UAW is paying striking workers $500 per week. APFA isn’t in a position to do this.
This is why APFA can’t really strike, or if they do strike they can’t do it for long. As a result, the strategy they’re considering is ‘CHAOS’ or ‘Create Havoc Around Our System,’ a tactic pioneered by rival union AFA-CWA.
- They target specific flights on certain dates to strike by surprise
- That creates uncertainty for the airline and for passengers
- The goal is to get media attention and have customers book away from the airline, since they don’t know whether or not their flights will operate
Any job action needs to be asymmetric, causing more pain to the airline and its customers than to the union’s members because they cannot afford a large scale job action.
Because their members aren’t in a position to hold out, and because it’s far easier to replace flight attendants than pilots, strike-breaking tactics against flight attendants work. British Airways managed to add lower wage work groups, largely breaking their cabin crew union, nearly 15 years ago – flying through a strike with replacements.
In 1993 American Airlines flight attendants went on strike. For a couple of days it was completely unclear which flights would operate. By day three things had stabilized. The airline had begun training replacement crew, in case the strike lasted. They offered base transfers out of seniority order for employees who came back to work. And they threatened that anyone that didn’t returned would have their seniority stapled below the replacement workers who were hired. The strike lasted five days.