Flying partners from across the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the union representing flight attendants, and allies picketed at 19 airports worldwide. The rallies came on the heels of United Airlines announcing record profits in the Pacific and Atlantic regions. According to a press release from the airline, United recorded $1.5 billion of pretax income in the third quarter of this year.
"It’s definitely gotten to the point where they seem to care less and less about the employees, flight attendants and the customers," United flight attendant Diane Cutaia said. "It’s all about the bottom line."
United flight attendants are asking for wage increases, improvement on work rules so flight attendants have more control of their schedules, and improvements to benefit packages, union officials said.
For now, AFA is working under a contract from 2014 that has been extended twice. The union also has requested mediation with the National Mediation Board to help kick-start contract negotiations.
Work without payCutaia, a 40-year veteran of the airline industry, said she and her colleagues spend a significant portion of their workday without compensation.
"Most people don't know that we don't get paid until the plane is in motion," Cutaia said. "On a daily basis, flight attendants work from the time they board the airplane until it departs from the gate, all without pay,”
Peter Coenen, a United AFA local council representative, added that United flight attendants often are required to wait for hours to receive scheduling updates or to find out if other flight attendants will relieve them. All this time spent waiting goes unpaid.
"Currently, we can work for 15 hours, sometimes operationally even 16 or 17 hours or longer," he said. “We are treated like machines.”
United flight attendants have been working under an expired contract for the past two years, but according to Paul Hartshorn Jr., a veteran flight attendant and spokesperson for the union, negotiations have been going on for several years.
“We’ve been negotiating for four years now, but flight attendants haven’t had a pay raise or cost-of-living raise since January 2019,” Hartshorn told The Guardian in September.
Coenen said he hopes to avoid a strike, however, if a contract cannot be negotiated soon, a strike may be imminent.
"What we're doing now is informational picketing, which is legal. If we can't negotiate an industry-leading contract now, we will move forward through a strike, which we will be able to do legally," Coenen said.
The Railway Labor Act of 1926 dictates that a strike cannot be called until the National Mediation Board releases the union and airline into a 30-day cooling-off period.
Despite the potential of a strike, United said that progress has been made.
"We are seeing good progress in our negotiations with the Association of Flight Attendants and closed out six sections of our contract with them on Wednesday. We are hopeful that this progress will provide momentum toward our goal of reaching an industry-leading agreement,” United said in a statement.
In September, United Airlines pilots secured a 40% raise after negotiating a new four-year contract with the airline. The new contract adds more than $10 billion to the value of the existing contract and includes vacation improvements and increased retirement benefits, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, International. The upgrade will benefit about 16,000 United pilots.