Following a summer time of landmark picketing, negotiating and deal-reaching for a few of America’s pilots’ unions, flight attendants are shifting into the highlight. Some teams of cabin crew are weighing a strike as they name for substantial wage will increase and higher working circumstances.
Flight attendants are advocating for a similar important pay will increase pilots obtained in the course of the summer time, citing the rising price of dwelling. The Alaska Airways chapter of the Affiliation of Flight Attendants is even doubtlessly threatening a strike throughout this yr’s vacation journey season.
One of many key calls for for flight attendants is to be higher compensated for his or her time; underneath the present mannequin, they aren’t paid for any work performed on the bottom, together with throughout boarding. (Delta, the place flight attendants are usually not unionized however the place a union drive is underway, started paying flight attendants for boarding final yr.)
“That is about gaining again our lives, getting again our productiveness, having the ability to put that in our pockets and never simply sending that to Wall Avenue,” AFA president Sara Nelson mentioned.
And whereas pilots’ unions on the likes of American Airways and United Airways reached agreements with their airways, tensions stay for pilots at different carriers. Southwest Airways’ contract negotiations with its pilots are nonetheless in limbo, as its union overwhelmingly voted to exit mediation in Might; this paved the way in which for the union to start the method of authorizing a strike.
In a yr the place the labor motion has gained important traction — with public opinion of labor unions reaching its most favorable level since 1965 — talks of labor motion and strikes at American auto producers and Kaiser Permanente healthcare have made headlines.
However at airways, in comparison with different industries, it is much less probably that the motion towards a strike will truly result in an industry-wide walkout.
The Railway Labor Act might preserve airliners within the sky
An airline strike is all the time a risk. The final one within the U.S. was in 2010 when Spirit Airways pilots walked out over disagreements on pay will increase.
However, a strike stays unlikely as a result of it is a lot tougher for airline staff to stroll out than these in different industries. Even when a strike had been to happen, it might take years to return to fruition.
Whereas the Nationwide Labor Relations Act governs collective bargaining for many industries, the Railway Labor Act oversees the railroad and airline industries — and the regulation makes it tough for airline staff to truly pull off a strike.
As a result of the federal authorities considers airways a necessary service for interstate commerce, negotiations between airways and their staff are topic to a special course of than most industries. This explicit course of is tailor-made to keep away from the prospect, as a lot as attainable, of transportation grinding to a halt. The RLA additionally provides the federal authorities the authority to intervene with the intention to stave off a strike, as was the case late final yr when American railway staff ready to stroll off the job.
One key provision within the RLA that seeks to stop strikes is its lengthy and tightly regimented cooling-off intervals.
When the Southwest Airways Pilots Affiliation requested to exit mediation in Might, that did not imply the union might instantly strike. As a substitute, they might have a 30-day cool-off interval. They might solely exit mediation if the Nationwide Mediation Board — the company that oversees airline labor relations — had been to grant the union’s request.
Joseph Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul College’s Faculty of Public Service who makes a speciality of city planning, transportation and public coverage, mentioned a number of the provisions within the RLA could cause the negotiation course of to be extraordinarily drawn out.
“It additionally has the impact of making plenty of theatrics, the place events ship messages by way of the media about their arguing stance, so issues can drag on for months,” he mentioned.
Nelson mentioned whereas the RLA is totally different from the NLRA, the negotiation framework between staff and administration stays roughly the identical.
“The truth is that if the aim of it’s to get a deal, having the proper strike assists within the collective bargaining course of,” Nelson mentioned.
Charles Westbrooks, an aeronautics professor at Embry-Riddle College, mentioned another excuse negotiations stall is as a result of the labor contracts are amendable underneath the RLA, that means that they do not expire.
Because of this, underneath the RLA, all staff work underneath the present contract, and airways should pay them the identical wages till the union and administration obtain an settlement.
For instance, earlier than United determined to extend pilot pay by 40% over 4 years in July, talks between the airline and its pilots’ union had been occurring since 2019, when its contract was first up for renewal.
However earlier than United reached an settlement with the union this previous summer time, pilots nonetheless needed to work underneath the identical payscales, although their contract interval had ended 4 years in the past.
“You’ll be able to’t do any slowdown or any form of job motion throughout the established order interval,” Westbrooks mentioned, since that might violate the RLA. “And that is the place it goes on perpetually.”
Why an precise strike might be averted
If a strike occurred, passengers would most probably find yourself stranded on the airport, the price of flights would soar, and airways in all probability would not be capable to deal with the surplus passenger demand attributable to persistent labor shortages and their apprehension to cancellations, Schwieterman mentioned.
“I do not know the way that might play out,” he mentioned. “Folks could be stranded all around the world.”
Schwieterman added that he believes an airline strike would additionally most probably be unpopular to the general public, given industrial airways’ low approval rankings.
Nevertheless, Nelson, the flight attendants’ union chief, mentioned she believes that if flight attendants find yourself putting, they’re going to be capable to experience off the momentum from the autoworkers’ strike, which began Sept. 15.
She added that she believes passengers will determine with flight attendants’ struggles and help a strike if it had been to occur.
“Folks determine with us,” Nelson mentioned. “They undergo the irritating expertise with the airways with us, not in opposition to us. We’re all in it collectively in that steel tube.”
Westbrooks additionally emphasised that any airline strike could be unlikely as a result of the blowback would additionally make its approach to Washington. So, even when airline staff had been near strolling out, it is probably that the White Home and Congress would step in to stop any work stoppages.
“The president is just not going to permit this to occur,” Westbrooks mentioned. “He can not — as a lot of a union man as he likes to fake that he’s.”
At the same time as flight attendants now debate the deserves of a strike, Westbrooks added that it will be within the airways’ finest curiosity to avert a strike and stop any widespread public backlash.
“It will be profoundly silly on administration’s half to permit their [employees] to go on strike,” he mentioned.