Feb 13, 2024 - News

Flight attendants picket San Diego International amid contract negotiations

A December flight attendant demonstration outside of San Diego International Airport

Flight attendants picket outside San Diego International Airport in December over ongoing contract disputes. Photo: Courtesy of Association of Flight Attendants/Haley Fox Photography

More than 100 flight attendants, pilots and other airline workers are expected to picket outside San Diego International Airport Tuesday as part of a nationwide demonstration over their pay and working conditions amid ongoing contract negotiations.

The big picture: They'll join picketers from multiple unions representing 100,000 flight attendants for Alaska, United, American, Southwest and other airlines who are expected outside 30 airports nationwide.

Of note: Travelers can expect to see the large group gathered at Terminal 2; however, their flights shouldn't be disrupted because the picketing employees are off duty.

  • San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and leaders of other workers unions are expected to attend in support.

What's happening: Local flight attendants are asking for raises and challenging their pay structure.

Between the lines: The industry norm is they don't get paid until the plane doors close.

  • Union members say they aren't fully or directly compensated for their work during boarding, deplaning or for time on the ground between back-to-back flights.
  • However, Alaska Air, for example, said in a statement that flight attendants are paid for boarding time "through a pay mechanism that was negotiated with the union in previous contract cycles."
  • Delta Air Lines in 2022 became the first U.S. airline to pay flight attendants during boarding — at half the rate.

What they're saying: Flight attendants are "forced to work long days, with little rest, increased responsibility and fuller planes with no increase to compensation," particularly following the pandemic, union leader Brice McGee told Axios.

The other side: Airlines say they're working with unions on agreements that would put their flight attendants at or near the top of the industry like they have with other employee groups, including pilots.

  • Alaska Air's proposals include an immediate 15% increase to the wage scale, annual raises and market rate adjustments in line with new contracts at other airlines, according to the airline. Alaska Air is continuing to bargain with the union through a mediator and "discussions have been productive," it said in an emailed statement.
  • United Airlines has mediated negotiations with the Association of Flight Attendants scheduled for March, where they plan to "narrow the issues" to work toward an "industry-leading agreement," the company said in an emailed statement.
  • American Airlines told Axios the proposal they've had on the table since September includes increased pay and the addition of boarding pay.
  • Southwest Airlines told Axios they're scheduled to meet with the unions and the National Mediation Board next week to continue working towards a contract agreement.

State of play: Workers at major airlines have been picketing in San Diego for months and nationwide for more than a year as part of an effort to organize during contract negotiations.

Yes, but: Union leaders want to avoid a strike, and one likely won't happen soon.

  • Under federal law, it's illegal for airline workers to strike unless they get permission from the federal government, NPR reported.
  • Federal mediators rejected the request for a strike by American flight attendants.
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