By JoAnne Powers, February 22, 2016
[Chanting workers]: “…now! What do you want? Contracts! When do you want it? Now!”
United Airlines flight Attendants turned out en masse Thursday for a picket at the airline’s hometown O’Hare airport in Chicago. They were demanding a contract after working without one for the last five years, through the longest airline bankruptcy in history, and a merger with Continental Airlines. The bankruptcy forced enormous concessions on United’s flight attendants:
[Sara Nelson]: “We took cuts, 30 to 40 percent, in pay. We’re working longer hours for less. Our pensions were stripped from us, and we fought all of that. And we fought to protect as much as we could in that bankruptcy…but during that progress we heard from management very often, ‘shared sacrifice will equal shared reward.’ Well, they were hypocritical then, because they took enormous bonuses at the time, but we’re gonna make them make good on that shared reward now.” That is Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants, part of the Communications Workers of America. The AFA-CWA represents 24,000 workers at United.
[Sara Nelson]: “United Airlines has now merged, like the rest of the industry. They’ve cut capacity and upped the ticket prices. The industry is making record profits and we’ve been a part of making this airline a success and keeping it going through five years of a merger that’s been very difficult on everyone, and it’s time for us to share in that success.”
The AFA-CWA has been conducting days of action around the system for the past several months:
[Sara Nelson]: “We will be out marching in solidarity with, quite frankly flight attendants from around the industry, because this negotiation is going to set the tone going forward for the flight attendant career. And we are just not willing to settle for anything less than what we are due, with all that we have sacrificed and all that we have given…we’ve got to stand up and fight back and that is what we are doing, and we will use every resource necessary and we will use all of our solidarity to fight back for what flight attendants are due.”
9000 Teamsters Mechanics at United have already authorized a strike, though under the Railway Labor Act, airline workers need to file for a release from the National Mediation Board. With the Continental merger dragging on for years and no contracts, things are coming to a head.
[Sara Nelson]: “Flight attendants have been pushed out of where they live, even, because of the inefficiencies in the unfinished merger. So not only are we not sharing in the incredible record profits, seven billion dollars in profits, but we are subject to trying to hold this operation together on a wing and a prayer, no pun intended. And, we’re done. It’s possible that we will ask for a release if we don’t get to a contract soon. That’s part of the process, and we are having a very intensive member information campaign right now about a strike vote, and essentially calling for a release. So that’s an option for us. We’re getting ready for it so that we can use that option if necessary.”