Air Wisconsin flight attendants begin process of going on strike

The union representing flight attendants for Air Wisconsin recently voted to begin the process of going on strike, in hopes of obtaining higher pay and greater stability.

Air Wisconsin is a regional carrier that contracts with main line carriers for shorter flights. The company previously contracted with American Airlines for about 10 years before the national airline decided not to renew the contract.

That led to a brief limbo period for employees before Air Wisconsin secured its current long-term contract with United Airlines. That’s according to Taylor Garland, public relations coordinator for the Association of Flight Attendants union.

After negotiations between Air Wisconsin and United began in 2016, she says flight attendants made some sacrifices for the good of the airline such as taking pay freezes. They also dealt with “confusion and disruption” resulting from flight attendant bases shifting location as part of the transition.

Since then, Air Wisconsin has come to an agreement with United, beginning service as a carrier in March 2018.

Now, Garland says the regional airline has a responsibility to its employees to fix these issues.

“They have secured their future as an airline; now it’s time to secure flight attendants’ future as a career,” she said.

Ernie Lazernick, AFA Air Wisconsin president, says “we have made every sacrifice to ensure the stability of the airline while management refuses to offer meaningful pay and work rule improvements.”

A spokesman for United Airlines declined to comment.

Most workers in the United States are regulated under the National Labor Relations Board. But work group strikes for the aviation industry are guided by the Railway Labor Act, Garland says, which has different regulations for striking due to interstate commerce and other concerns.

“Striking in the aviation industry is different,” she said. “Flight attendants can’t just walk off the job.”

She notes the national mediation board, appointed by the federal government, has to release flight attendants before they can move ahead with their strike. That hasn’t happened yet, according to Garland.

That means the vote taken by AFA won’t immediately result in a strike. It simply sends a message that flight attendants are ready and willing to strike if they are released.  

If the mediation board releases them, that starts a 30-day “cooling-off period” which leads up to a strike deadline.

AFA has a certain strike methodology referred to as CHAOS, or “create havoc around our system.”  

“It’s not a traditional strike; it’s a unique intermittent strike,” Garland said. “The union can decide how to do that. It could be all flights departing Chicago on a certain day; it could be a certain type of flight.”

She says this method can sustain strikes longer, as not all attendants must simultaneously go on strike to get more attention on employee demands.

“Flight attendants have made their voices heard, and they are prepared to strike if released,” she said.

–By Alex Moe