Flight attendants who belong to the Association of Flight Attendants-Communication Workers of America (AFA-CWA) on January 21 staged a day of action at airports around the world to protest United Airline’s collective bargaining stalling tactics
For the last three years since the merger of United and Continental airlines, the two sides have been trying to reach an agreement on a new contract that will replace the collective bargain agreements in place when the two airlines completed their merger in 2012.
According to the union, United is employing stalling tactics in hopes of forcing a concessionary contract on the flight attendants.
United’s concessionary proposals include new scheduling rules that, according to the union, would be “the worst in the industry.”
Scheduling rules not only affect when and where flight attendants work, they determine how much time they will have to rest, to spend with their families, and to enjoy their away-from-work life.
In a bargaining message to members, the union said that United wants to eliminate scheduling protections that flight attendants currently enjoy, so that the company can have “total discretion” in scheduling work..
The union also said that the company wants health care and retiree health care concessions.
The January 21 day of action included public picketing and meetings to discuss strike information at more than 20 locations.
“Flight attendants are done waiting for management to negotiate a (fair) contract,” said AFA presidents Ken Diaz (pre-merger United), Randy Hatfield (pre-merger Continental) and Kathleen Domondon (pre-merger Continental Micronesia). “We are serious about reaching an agreement flight attendants can be proud to ratify. We are hopeful new leadership at United translates to efforts by management to conclude these negotiations and absent resolution we are preparing to exercise all of our legal options as necessary.”
One of those legal options is a contract bargaining strategy that AFA has successfully used since 1993 called CHAOS, or Create Havoc Around Our System.
Depending on the situation and the strengths and weaknesses of management, AFA employs the appropriate CHAOS tactic or tactics to give its members the maximum amount of bargaining leverage with the least amount of risk.
Some of the tactics used in past CHAOS campaigns include intermittent strikes, system wide strikes, a media campaign to warn potential customers of potential flight delays or cancellations, and actions that demonstrate union members’ solidarity and resolve.
In 1993, AFA was locked in a tough round of bargaining with Alaska Airlines. The company was looking to provoke a strike, so that it could use replacement workers to bust the union.
The union defeated the company’s anti-union strategy by creating CHAOS. In this particular case, the union used selective intermittent strikes, short strikes that end when workers agree to return to work unconditionally, to disrupt flights.
The tactics led to a new collective bargaining agreement that was strongly supported by the membership.
When United changed its leadership team in September, there was some optimism that the bargaining deadlock could be resolved without using CHAOS.
But optimism faded when United’s leadership continued using negotiators from the old leadership team and continued to insist on concessions at a time when United’s business is booming.
United recently reported $7.3 billion in net income for 2015, a 560 percent increase over 2014’s net income of $1.1 billion.
The company will use this surge in wealth to reward shareholders by buying back $3 billion worth of stock, which will also richly reward United executives who own stock in the company by increasing the price of their shares.
The huge increase in net income is primarily due to lower fuel costs. When fuel prices were rising, United and other airlines used the high cost of fuel to justify fare increases and new fees.
United has given no indication that it plans to lower fares or eliminate the fees, but it is returning some of its immense profits to passengers.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “starting in February, United . . . plans to bring back free snacks to passengers in economy seats.”
While passengers will be receiving their share of United’ profits in the form of peanuts, United flight attendants won’t be so lucky.
United still wants flight attendants to work longer and harder without adequately compensating them; moreover, the company wants more control over one of the workers’ most precious possessions, their own time.
The flight attendants on the other hand want a bigger piece of the profit pie. Part of this bigger piece should be in the form more worker control over their work schedules and the time that they spend away from work.
“We are standing up for our fair share of the profits we help create,” said Sara Nelson, AFA international president. “This isn’t just about United, it’s about setting the new standard for flight attendants across the industry.”