Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants returned to the picket lines today at Los Angeles International Airport.
The informational picket comes just about a month after some 400 Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants turned out June 26 at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport for their first major Hawaii labor demonstration in nearly 20 years. Hawaiian’s Los Angles-based flight attendants, who make up about 140 of Hawaiian’s 2,200 flight attendants, have now joined them in protesting protracted negotiations over a new contract.
The contract between Hawaiian Airlines management and the flight attendants, who belong to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) union, became amendable on Dec. 31, 2016. The last bargaining session was held in mid-June in Portland and the parties are expected to go back to the table next week.
Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said earlier, “The AFA-CWA represents some 2,100 Hawaiian flight attendants who provide the best hospitality in the industry. HA and the AFA have reached tentative agreements on many issues since negotiations began in 2017. We are now in mediation, to help us navigate remaining issues and we are working very hard to finalize a deal.”
But Jeff Fuke, a Hawaiian flight attendant for 11 years and a member of Hawaiian’s negotiating committee, said union members still are fighting for fair wages, better retirement plans and maintaining protections on the job.
“We haven’t met with the company since right before the Honolulu picket. We have been in negotiations for two and a half years and while we’ve come to agreement on some of the more technical issues, we haven’t on the really meaty ones,” Fuke said. “Our contract became amenable on Dec. 31, 2016 and our last raise was in March of 2016. We went into the mediation stage in Nov. 28, 2018.”
Fuke said flight attendants are taking their struggle public because they feel that it’s time to move forward now. Fuke said the industry standard for collective bargaining agreements is up to three years and Hawaiian Airlines and its flight attendants are approaching the upper reaches of that zone.
Fuke said the mediation process, which is outlined in the Railway Labor Act, can continue indefinitely until either party feels that it isn’t working and applies for binding arbitration. The act, first passed in 1926, seeks to prevent strikes as a means to resolve labor disputes in the railroad and airline industries.
As a result, it’s rare for airline strikes to happen. However, they do occur. If the parties reject the arbitrator’s proposal, they would enter into a 30-day cooling-off period after which workers may obtain permission to strike or engage in other aggressive labor actions under certain conditions.
“Flight attendants want to feel respected, appreciated and valued — that would reflect positively on our whole organization. We are Hawaii’s hometown airline now going into our 90th year of operations. Our most senior flight attendants have been through all the bankruptcies and hard times and have given up quite a bit out of previous contracts to make sure the company could stay afloat and succeed. The company’s success should be our success.”
But that hasn’t been the case, Fuke said. On average, Hawaiian’s top-scale pay rate for attendants is about $20 below what other carriers are offering, he said. Hawaiian’s wages start at $22 an hour and go up to $55 an hour for top-scale workers, who have 20 years on the job, he said.
Fuke said current pay rates aren’t enough to produce a comfortable living in Hawaii since flight attendants only get paid when the aircraft is moving and are only guaranteed that they’ll be paid for 75 hours a month. At top scale, that means Hawaiian’s flight attendants are only guaranteed $49,500. Fuke said there are also concerns that Hawaiian’s retirement plans do not provide enough continuity of medical benefits.
While Hawaii and Los Angeles, Hawaiian’s home bases for flight attendants, rank among U.S. destinations with the highest costs of living, Hawaiian flight attendants say their pay has fallen in comparison with the rest of the industry while their living and medical costs continue to rise. After making employee concessions and helping the company get through a history of bankruptcies, flight attendants say they now want their fair share of Hawaiian’s recent record profits.