American Airlines Pilots Vote to Strike

American Airlines pilots have voted overwhelmingly to strike as they try to reach a new contract before the summer travel season.

The likelihood of a work stoppage is slim, however, because airline workers must clear several hurdles before they can legally walk off the job.

Flight Captain Ed Sicher, president of the Allied Pilots Association, said pilots are determined to push through scheduling changes that would “improve the operational reliability and efficiency of the airline.”

“We will strike if necessary to get the industry-leading contract our pilots deserve – a contract that will make American Airlines a success,” Sicher said.

The union announced the results of the vote Monday. It said 99% of pilots voted to authorize the strike, with 96% of American Airlines’ 15,000 pilots participating in the April vote. Pilots planned to set up informational pickets at ten major airports on Monday.

“Pilots want a better quality of work life. They want to know that if they’re scheduled for a four-day trip that they’ll be back home with their families after four days.”

– Dan Koller, spokesperson, Allied Pilots Association

American and the union have been attempting to negotiate a contract since January 2019. The airline said in a statement it was optimistic an agreement could be “finalized quickly.”

“The finish line is in sight,” an airline spokesperson said in an email. “We understand that a strike authorization vote is one of the primary means by which pilots express their desire to reach an agreement, and we respect the message of the vote outcome.”

As with railroad workers, airline workers are subject to different rules for collective bargaining, and it is more difficult for them to walk off the job than for most other private sector workers. U.S. pilots would first have to go through arbitration with a government panel and get legal authorization to strike.

The two sides are still in so-called “direct negotiations” and have not yet requested arbitration, which would be a prerequisite to a strike.

American Airlines and the pilots union have been trying to negotiate a contract since 2019.

Dan Koller, a spokesman for the union, told HuffPost that the strike permission was “not about money.” Instead, it was primarily about scheduling, which he called “chaotic and unpredictable” for workers.

“Pilots are seeking a better quality of work life,” Koller said in an email. “They really want to know that if they are scheduled for a four-day trip, they can be home with their families after four days. They want to know that the airline won’t unceremoniously send them to Buffalo if they want to make a layover in, say, New Orleans and meet up with friends there.”

Koller said the negotiations have dragged on only because the pandemic caused a massive drop in air traffic before rebounding strongly. “American Airlines management dragged out negotiations before COVID and continued to do so when the industry recovered,” Koller said.

American Airlines said it is working “expeditiously” to finalize the contract. “We remain focused on finalizing the few matters necessary to reach an agreement that our pilots deserve,” the spokesman said.

Airlines are facing difficulties in maintaining pilots and other airline personnel in light of low unemployment and a strong travel economy, giving workers more leverage in negotiations. Pilots at American competitor Delta recently signed a new contract with the airline that calls for pay raises of 34% over four years.

Industry contracts are typically aligned, and the Delta agreement could provide the framework for agreements not only for American but also for United and Southwest.

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