CHICAGO — “Overworked! Underpaid!” chanted hundreds of American Airlines flight attendants, members of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union, as they rallied outside of Chicago O’Hare Airport Terminal 1 Nov. 16. The boisterous and spirited pickets carried signs saying, “Ready to strike!” They cheered, banged their signs with paint sticks and shook pompoms as passing drivers blew their horns in support.
The union organized protests here and at American terminals in 10 other cities, at the airline’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, and the statehouse in Massachusetts. Several pilots, employees of other airlines and retired flight attendants joined the Chicago picket line in solidarity. Some veteran flight attendants recalled the last time there was a strike at the airline, in 1993. “Here we go again!” said one.
The 26,000 American flight attendants have gone without a pay raise since 2019, under pay rates negotiated in 2014.
In addition to substantial raises and a cost-of-living clause to boost wages whenever inflation goes up, the flight attendants are pushing to get paid for substantial work time they now are forced to perform for nothing. They’re only paid when the plane is in the air, not for time spent boarding the plane or other duties on the ground.
They also face schedules that leave them exhausted. “We are working 12-plus-hour days with minimum rest,” flight attendant Kathrin Leefers told reporters at the Charlotte, North Carolina, airport picket line.
“We are ready to back our words with action. We are ready to strike,” Julie Hedrick, president of APFA, told the media. “This fight goes beyond us. It is a fight for all working-class Americans who are fed up with being forgotten and neglected while companies report record profits.”
American CEO Robert Isom hauled in a base salary of $1.3 million this year, along with a $2.75 million bonus and $8.25 million worth of stock.