The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA sent its union president to Hawaii Thursday to intervene in protracted bargaining between Hawaiian Airlines management and flight attendants.
AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson, who is a Boston-based United Airlines flight attendant who lives in Washington, D.C., characterized her visit as historic during an afternoon press conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
“When we get to the end of very hot bargaining, difficult bargaining, I do get involved at the end stages … to provide some added oomph at the table to help the airline understand how serious we are as a union how much of our resources we are putting into this and that if they don’t take that seriously then we know how to put pressure on them,” Nelson said.
“We’ve never had to come to Hawaii before these flight attendants have never even had to take a strike vote before so this is really historic and unprecedented at Hawaiian,” Nelson said.
Negotiations between Hawaiian and its flight attendants have been steadily heating up since the contract became amendable on Dec. 31, 2016. The company and its flight attendants union have been in mediation since the fourth quarter of 2018. So far, flight attendants have held informational pickets in Honolulu and in Los Angeles and last year they took an historic strike vote, which was ratified by 99.9% of voters.
But a strike is hardly imminent as workers fall under restrictions in the Railway Labor Act, federal legislation that discourages transportation industry workers from going on strikes and lockouts that could create economic dampening.
The RLA requires transportation unions to get approval from a federal mediator to go on strike. Even if they get permission, they can’t strike until a 30-day cooling-off period passes. If they do go on strike, President Donald Trump can order them to go back to work.
Nelson said neither side has asked for a cooling off period and bargaining will resume over the next two days. While Nelson described the sides as still “far apart,” she said she’s “cautiously optimistic” that a new contract can be reached.
Robin Sparling, Hawaiian Airlines vice president in-flight, said last week during an update that the airline is focused on working with AFA negotiators through federal mediation to finalize a new contract.
Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Ann Botticelli, also speaking during the update, said negotiators already have reached tentative agreements on roughly 3/4 of the 34 section contract. Botticelli said the carrier made a wage proposal at the end of January that represented a 20% increase at the top of the scale.
But Jeffrey Fuke, who is on the Hawaiian Flight attendant’s negotiating committee, said Hawaiian’s proposals include too many concessions.
“It’s not really a wage increase; it’s just moving money around from one part of the contract to another,” Fuke said. “We deserve a real raise.”
Among other major sticking points are medical cost shares and on-board staffing. While Hawaiian staffs planes with more flight attendants than required, the union has opposed cuts.
“It would mean a reduction in the level of service and also the level of safety,” Fuke said. “In this kind of era of coronavirus, you want as many airline personnel on board monitoring passengers as possible.”
Alex Da Silva, spokesman for Hawaiian Airlines, said: “As the AFA national knows well, unless the National Mediation Board determines the parties to be at an impasse, which is far from where we stand, there is no possibility of a release from mediation. Hawaiian Airlines has remained committed to offering our flight attendants wages that are in line with the largest U.S. airlines, including raises at the top of scale of more than 20 percent at date of signing – to $67 per hour. We continue to make progress and our most recent proposal is not concessionary as every flight attendant will earn more total compensation and continue to enjoy above-industry staffing and benefits. It is time to conclude these negotiations and we look forward to Ms. Nelson’s leadership in moving this contract to a long-awaiting conclusion.”