“We Deserve More and We Deserve Better": Flight Attendants Weighing Strike Action

Flight attendants for Piedmont Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines, are voting on whether to strike over mistreatment and poor pay

Flight attendants with American Airlines regional hub Piedmont Airlines are voting on whether or not to strike in what could become a major national labor action.

Piedmont flight attendants, who number around 360, are fed up with low pay and poor treatment, said Keturah Johnson, who works at the airline and it the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Local 6.

“People cannot afford to work at Piedmont,” she told me. “It's just blatant disrespect and not being treated well by management.”

“Things have been really heating up because we need a lot of changes for our contract, and just to our overall overall quality of life,” she added.

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“We deserve better”

Flight attendants are paid a base rate for a minimum hours of flight time a month, but deregulation, mergers, and cost-cutting measures in the two decades since the 9/11 attacks provided more work and thus more pay. With Covid, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, told me, that extra work suddenly stopped—and exposed the deficiencies in the labor relationship.

“What the pandemic did was simply show workers that there is a shared experience, that they're not alone,” Nelson said.

Base pay at Piedmont, an average of $16,485 a year, is 35% to 45% lower than at American Airlines proper—even though the regional airline flies in parent company-branded planes and workers wear company uniforms.

Workers at the airline are struggling to the point that the union has set up food banks at Piedmont’s base airports in Philadelphia and Charlotte, North Carolina to help flight attendants who are hungry.

“We deserve more and we deserve better and we're willing to fight and do what we have to do to get a fair contract,” Johnson said.


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“Taking on the entire industry”

The result of the vote will be announced Thursday. If ratified, and progress is not made with the company, the decision will go to the National Mediation Board—which has the power to approve or deny the strike under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act. Even if the board approves the strike, it’s subject to a 30-day “cooling off” period before the workers can strike, giving time for the union and company to try to work out a deal.

Any strike would follow CHAOS, the tactic used by flight attendants that doesn’t set a time for the work stoppage but threatens it at any time, anywhere, without warning.

Should the Piedmont flight attendants go on strike, that opens the door to a secondary boycott, Nelson told me. A secondary boycott allows other workers to strike in solidarity, and is legal for airline workers to participate in under the RLA.

“We're talking about a real test here where the law actually allows workers to stand up for each other,” Nelson said. “Taking on the entire industry could start with a strike for 300 airline workers.”


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