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American, Southwest Airlines flight attendants inch closer to strikes amid contract negotiations

Members of the American Airlines flight attendants union chant at a picket announcing a strike authorization vote outside Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Aug. 30, 2023.
Toluwani Osibamowo
Members of the American Airlines flight attendants union chant at a picket announcing a strike authorization vote outside Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Aug. 30, 2023.

Flight attendants with both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have taken steps closer in the past week toward strikes against their respective North Texas-based carriers.

Southwest flight attendant union TWU Local 556 announced Tuesday 98% of participating union members voted to authorize a strike against the Dallas-based carrier — the first time in history their members have approved a potential strike, according to the union.

"We will do whatever it takes to get a Contract that recognizes our contributions to the success of our Company," the union’s statement reads.

The announcement came the day after the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association announced their own majority vote to approve a new contract with the airline, officially bringing an end to more than three years of negotiations.

That contract gives about 11,000 pilots a 50% total raise over the next four years, as well as improvements to flight schedules, parental leave, disability coverage and retirement benefits.

Southwest flight attendants came close last year to approving a tentative agreement, but most of the union’s nearly 19,000 members voted to reject the contract in December.

Meanwhile, American Airlines flight attendants once again asked the National Mediation Board Friday to release their union from contract negotiations with the Fort Worth-based carrier.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants voted to authorize a strike in August, and an approved release from negotiations would allow flight attendants to go through with a strike after a 30-day cooling-off period, as required by the Railway Labor Act.

The National Mediation Board previously rejected the union's request to be released from negotiations in November. But after mediated talks with American management in December and January, APFA President Julie Hedrick said in a letter to the NMB pay raises remain a point of contention.

“[American Airlines] has said that they will not exceed the current industry standard under any circumstances,” Hedrick wrote. “While APFA has never said industry comparisons do not matter, this status quo model will not work. In any round of bargaining in a defined industry, one employer must take the lead, or the result would be stagnation.”

Flight attendants are asking for a 35% raise with subsequent 6% yearly raises, while American is only offering an 11% immediate pay increase followed by 2% yearly increases.

American Airlines flight attendants have not seen a pay increase since 2019, APFA spokesperson Paul Hartshorn Jr. told KERA Wednesday. Hartshorn said the current wage-setting framework continues to fail struggling flight attendants across the industry.

"You have new-hire flight attendants coming out of training, being sent to Boston, New York City, Miami, those obviously high-cost cities,” Hartshorn said. “And they're having to choose to pay for food, transportation or rent each month, and they're not able to pay all three."

Like Southwest, American Airlines’ pilot union has also already come to a contract agreement. The Allied Pilots Association ratified a four-year contract in August, one the carrier says is worth approximately $9 billion with its provision of a cumulative 40% pay raise for pilots.

In a statement shared with KERA Wednesday, American Airlines said the carrier “strongly” disagrees that a release from mediation with flight attendants is warranted, and it will continue to negotiate with APFA in good faith.

“Our focus remains unchanged: Reaching an agreement quickly — one that ensures our flight attendants are paid as well as the best paid flight attendants in the industry,” the statement reads. “Our industry-leading economic proposal, which includes pay increases, boarding pay and a number of other meaningful improvements, remains on the table.”
Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Toluwani Osibamowo