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American Flight Attendants Denied Release from Federal Mediation
The airline and union will be forced to continue mediation talks under the National Mediation Board (NMB)'s supervision.
The National Mediation Board (NMB) has denied the American Airlines flight attendants’ union its request to be released from federal mediation.
In a letter to its members on Tuesday evening, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) expressed strong disagreement over the NMB’s decision, bemoaning that the federal agency’s established standard for release only “…serves to benefit employers and is not consistent with the provisions or intent of the Railway Labor Act.”
The APFA has been in contract negotiations with American since 2018 and advanced to supervised mediated talks with the NMB in June, after filing for mediation in March of this year. Had the APFA’s request to be released been granted, the parties would have entered a 30-day cooling-off period, setting a countdown to a possible strike in the midst of the busy holiday travel season.
In August, over 93% of eligible APFA members participated in a strike vote. Of those who returned ballots, 99.47% voted yes, authorizing their union leadership to call a strike if mediation fails and no agreement is reached by the end of the subsequent cooling-off period.
In a statement, APFA National President Julie Hedrick said, “As of today, the National Mediation Board (NMB) has denied our request for release into a 30-day cooling-off period. Flight Attendants at American Airlines are working under wages negotiated in 2014 while management continues to drag out bargaining with contract proposals that do not address the current economic environment.”
The NMB’s History of Mediation Releases
The NMB is an independent federal agency with its members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. In 2021, President Biden appointed a new board chairman, Deirdre Hamilton, who was later confirmed by the Senate in a 52-48 vote.
In modern history, the NMB has rarely released airline workers from mediation. Over the last twenty years, only a handful of parties have been granted requests for release.
Fast forward to August 2023, the union representing Southwest pilots – SWAPA – was denied a similar request for release. “I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Captain Casey Murray, president of SWAPA, said in response to the decision, according to Bloomberg News. The Dallas-based airline’s flight attendants are also set to vote on a new contract, which would see 36% pay raises, per CNBC.
Despite today’s setback for the APFA, they have vowed not to back down and intend to submit additional requests to be released if no agreement is reached following their next round of mediated talks with American.
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