The flight attendant union at American Airlines claims that AA treats its predominantly female cabin crews as “second-class citizens” over pilots via new “sexist” attendance rules. Welcome to contract negotiation season…
Pilot and flight attendant contracts are up for renewal in December 2019 and January 2020 (respectively). In this season of negotiation, AA flight attendants have already come out swinging. A protest labeled “UnfAAir in the Air” was held in Dallas yesterday and very specific grievances have been alleged.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants represents over 27,000 AA flight attendants and has zeroed in on a change in attendance policy that it says unfairly harms females. 75% of AA flight attendants are female.
The New Attendance Policy
A new absence policy went into effect last October in which FAs accrue points for suspicions absences. As the Chicago Business Journal reported:
The new attendance policy is centered on a complicated system that assigns flight attendants one or more points for various attendance infractions, such as taking more than two contractually-allowed personal days, or reporting late for work, or being a no show for a scheduled trip, or being sick during critical times for the airline. The “critical periods” include July 1 -7, Thanksgiving (Wednesday prior through Sunday after), and December 22 to January 3.
Earning 4-6 points over a rolling 12-month period would result in a performance review. Earning 8 points would result in a “final warning” while earning 10 points would result in immediate termination.
Flight attendants argue this policy encourages FAs to come to work sick. They also note that pilots have no such restrictions.
American Defends Attendance Policy
American, however, is pushing back.
Like nearly all Fortune 100 companies, we have attendance policies that support our 24/7 operation. Our policy is designed to provide support and flexibility for our 27,000 flight attendants to give them latitude in managing their time away from work. At the same time, our policy ensures we’re staffed to provide our customers with the great service they expect and deserve when flying American.
Last fall, AA said, “We believe the new policies provide ample latitude for our flight attendants to live their lives while allowing for attendance accountability.”
Pilots Voice Support For Flight Attendants
FAs have invoked pilots, whose contracts are also under negotiation. Unsurprisingly, the pilot union is not going to oppose the cabin crews it must work with every day:
From an inclusive workplace perspective, myopic policies like this do not reflect a caring, compassionate and empathic leadership style and only undermine the company’s core goal of making culture a competitive advantage. American Airlines’ draconian sick point system just won’t fly. Our flight attendants understand that when they’re sick, they need to stay home and get well, rather than delaying their recovery and exposing fellow crew members and passengers.
I appreciate that American Airlines wants to hold its flight attendants accountable and discourage “industrial action” that sabotages the company and hurts customers. At the same time, people do get sick around the holidays. I think American would argue if that is the only infraction, then a FA will not even receive a performance review, let alone termination. On the other hand, I don’t think any worker should ever be placed in a position in which they feel compelled to come into work while sick.
I do not find the comparison between flight attendants and pilots very compelling. Pilots are a different workgroup. They have different skillsets and different bargaining power. Just because pilots have a sweeter deal than FAs is not necessarily an indication of sexism or even favoritism. Rather, it is just an acknowledgement of the reality that these are different work groups.
As a consumer advocate, my greatest concern is that flight attendants will take out their frustration against management on customers. It is therefore imperative that unions and management sit down around the table, discuss frankly their disagreements, and be willing to compromise. American has a right to punish FAs who take advantage of its leave policies. But American cannot reasonably expect FAs to come to work sick.
image: Brandon Wade / American Airlines