CHICAGO — Over 200 United Airlines flight attendants rallied and held an informational picket line at O’Hare International Airport here Oct. 26 to protest the lack of progress in negotiating a new contract. The action was one of some 20 held at United terminals across the country, including New York’s LaGuardia Airport, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Houston and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Flight attendants, members of Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, were joined by airline pilots, Teamsters and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strikers, as well as flight attendants from American Airlines.
They have been fighting for a new contract since 2021. One of the key demands is to be paid for ground time. “Even though their wages might seem high, they only get paid once the door closes on takeoff to when the plane rolls into the gate,” Timothy Trueman, AFA-CWA’s council vice president for Los Angeles and San Diego, told the Whittier Daily News. “So at the end of the day they might have worked 13 hours, but only gotten paid for seven.” This also means they don’t get paid for any delays, whether caused by the weather, staffing shortages or anything else.
“The company wants concessions from us while they are making record profits,” Scott Pejas, president of the union local here in Chicago, told the Militant. It raked in $1.5 billion in the third-quarter of 2023 alone. “They have money for new planes, but say they can’t afford to pay us more.
“They cut staffing during the pandemic, but when travelers returned, the staffing didn’t,” he said, noting flight attendants often have to work up to 18 hours straight on domestic flights and 24 hours for international trips. And we have mandatory OT which can cut into our days off.”
The picketing began at airports in Guam and Heathrow in London before reaching the U.S. “We’re fed up with management’s greed,” the union said on its Facebook page. “There’s always money for C-suite raises, but it’s penny-pinching for the 26,000 Flight Attendants who make this airline fly.”
“We are doing a picket line on Nov. 16 to push for our demands,” said Katy Benge, a member of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants at American Airlines who joined the United protest. The airline bosses don’t respect us. We are short staffed. We need wages that keep up with inflation.” Similar contract fights are underway at Alaska Airlines, Air Wisconsin, PSA, Southwest and other airlines.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — United Airlines flight attendants and supporters rallied here, part of the union’s national action to highlight their contract demands. As Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Florida, I and campaign supporter Chuck Guerra joined them.
We spoke with Kristin Orren, picket leader and vice president of AFA-CWA Council 22, which organizes flight attendants in Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. She said it was her first time doing anything like this. “We aren’t paid for any work we do on the ground, and new hires, who start at $24 or $25 an hour, can’t pay their rent.”
Orren said the union is organizing similar protests every two months in different locations to help get out the facts about what they face and to win support.
Flight attendants at the protest said United management “is toxic toward us.” Instead of treating their workers decently, they’re demanding even more concessions. They want to increase the number of flights that flight attendants can be assigned to each day, from four to five. They also want to eliminate having to pay for flight attendants’ parking at the airport and downsize crew lounges at the airports, or eliminate them altogether. And they want to eliminate the pensions for the few workers who have them.
— Rachele Fruit