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‘It’s going to be historic’: US flight attendants picket at major airports

Flight attendants are holding picket protests at over 30 major airports across the US on Tuesday as part of the Worldwide Flight Attendant Day of Action.

Picket line events are planned in New York City, Orlando, Miami, San Francisco, Charlotte, Washington DC, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and several other major cities. Some 100,000 flight attendants across three different labor unions are expected to participate.

The protests come as over two-thirds of flight attendants in the US, at United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Air Wisconsin, American Airlines, Omni and Frontier, are currently in new union contract negotiations.

“Legacy sexism that traditionally devalued our jobs must be stamped out and replaced with the true value of our work,” the group said in a statement for the event. “Our time on the job must be compensated. We need retirement security. We need flexibility and control of our lives.”

Over 26,000 flight attendants at American Airlines represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) voted to authorize a strike in August 2023 with 99.47% in favor. At Air Wisconsin, an American Eagle Carrier, flight attendants voted 99% in favor of a strike authorization and over 98% of flight attendants at Southwest Airlines voted in favor of a strike authorization last month.

“With the wages that we have, it’s just unsustainable. We can’t live off of these wages,” said Doris Millard, a flight attendant at Air Wisconsin for 44 years who said her pay had changed little since she started at the airline in 1980. “I feel like I’m being forced to give up my career and find something else or continue to basically live in poverty.”

Flight attendants represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) at United Airlines filed for federal mediation in December 2023 and have held numerous picket protests amid long delays in their fight for a new union contract.

“The federal mediator requested by the AFA has scheduled our first negotiations session for March 19. We’re looking forward to working with AFA to narrow the issues so that we can continue to work toward an industry-leading agreement for our flight attendants,” said a United Airlines spokesperson in an email.

Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines will be announcing their strike authorization vote results on Tuesday.

Melissa Osborne has worked as a flight attendant for 23 years and has worked the past seven years at Alaska Airlines.

She said union contracts had experienced cuts to wages and benefits since the 9/11 tragedy and the downturn experienced by the airlines industry. But she added working conditions have exponentially worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, when workers had to deal with exposure to the virus, an uptick in unruly passengers and, more recently, issues with Boeing planes.

“Even today putting on my uniform and going to work, there are several layers of anxiety all of us experience,” said Osborne. “I feel like that level of stress is not being recognized by the company, they’re not recognizing our value and what we do everyday.”

She rejected claims from Alaska Airlines that the economic proposals from the union were not feasible. She said Alaska Airlines and others had come out of the Covid-19 pandemic with record profits and Alaska Airlines gave pilots pay raises outside of contract negotiations and recently reached a deal to acquire Hawaiian Airlines.

Osborne said the picket protests were being conducted by flight attendants across different unions and airlines because they were all experiencing similar issues and fighting for similar industry improvements. The idea to organize picket protests across different airlines and unions, she said, came from Iceland where she attended a nationwide women’s strike in October 2023 across different jobs and industries.

“Look at all of us, all fighting for contracts, all having the same sort of obstacles to overcome with our negotiations, dealing with the same company responses,” said Osborne. “It’s going to be historic. It’s so impactful to tell companies we see what you’re doing and we’re going to stand together in solidarity. I’ve been in the industry for 23 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

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