Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn
Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Unions Accuse Management of Retaliation
The fractious relationship between American Airlines and its flight attendant unions has taken an ugly turn, with accusations flying on both sides. The unions representing American's 25,000 flight attendants allege management is retaliating against them for recent job actions and ongoing contract negotiations.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents American's mainline cabin crew members, claims management is intimidating and pressuring flight attendants in response to the operational disruptions caused by their informational picketing. The union says managers are demanding doctors notes, disciplining, and threatening to fire crew members who call in sick.
In a blistering statement, APFA President Julie Hedrick said “Management continues to undermine, intimidate, bully and threaten flight attendants.” She contends supervisors are showing up at flight attendants' homes unannounced, pressuring them to fly while ill. The union argues this alleged retaliation is jeopardizing safety by compelling sick crew members to work.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA echoed the retaliation claims on behalf of American's regional subsidiary Envoy Air. AFA President Sara Nelson noted a steep rise in disciplinary actions against Envoy flight attendants, which she attributes to an ongoing contract dispute. "Management is escalating its severe tactics to intimidate flight attendants," said Nelson.
American Airlines vehemently denies these allegations, dismissing them as "untrue" and "completely inaccurate." An airline spokesperson said “We do not tolerate any form of retaliation.” They contend staffing challenges are solely due to industry-wide crew shortages, not labor actions or retaliation.
Nonetheless, the accusations come amid operational struggles at American Airlines, which had the most flight cancellations among major U.S. carriers this summer. On some days, American scrubbed up to 10% of its flights, with both weather and staffing cited as factors. This fueled contract disputes with pilots and flight attendants.
What else is in this post?
- Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Unions Accuse Management of Retaliation
- Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Association Files Lawsuit Over 'Culture of Fear'
- Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - American Suffers Operational Issues Amid Labor Unrest
- Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Flight Attendants Feel Pressured to Fly While Sic
- Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Airline Denies Allegations of Worker Intimidation
- Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Labor Groups Demand Oversight Investigation
- Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Unions Seek Injunction Against Alleged Retaliation
- Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Workers Protest Outside American Headquarters
Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Association Files Lawsuit Over 'Culture of Fear'
The animosity between American Airlines management and cabin crew unions escalated even further last month, when the flight attendants' labor association filed a lawsuit accusing the airline of fostering a "culture of fear."
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) alleges that management has engaged in a pattern of threats, intimidation and retaliation targeting union members. This hostile work environment emerged during contentious contract negotiations and in response to recent job actions like informational picketing.
In their lawsuit, APFA argues this culture of fear has compelled flight attendants to work while fatigued, sick or injured, compromising aviation safety. They claim management uses harassment and threats of discipline to pressure crew members, retaliating against any who resist.
Numerous flight attendants have come forward with disturbing accounts of mistreatment. Many describe being threatened with firing or official investigations. Others say they've been followed by managers pressing them to accept assignments despite calling in sick.
Helen Gebhard, a 20-year veteran flight attendant, recalls being confronted by a supervisor while walking through the airport on medical leave. “He demanded to know why I wasn't working,” she said. “It was terrifying and humiliating.”
Sonia Jarvis, an APFA member who participated in informational picketing, recounts being placed under in-depth scrutiny and receiving a verbal warning after 17 years of incident-free flying. “I feel like I have a target on my back for standing up for my coworkers,” said Jarvis.
American Airlines maintains the allegations are “unfounded and dishonest.” However, the carrier has faced scrutiny over operational issues attributed partly to staff shortages. Flight cancellations spiked this summer, with American scrubbing up to 10% of flights on peak disruption days.
Flight attendants contend management created the staffing crisis by refusing to improve scheduling practices and work conditions. They believe the airline is trying to intimidate them instead of addressing underlying issues.
As contract negotiations drag on, relations between the airline and cabin crew unions continue to deteriorate. But flight attendants say they won't be coerced into accepting unreasonable terms. The APFA lawsuit aims to stop management's strong-arm tactics and reform the oppressive environment crew members allegedly face.
Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - American Suffers Operational Issues Amid Labor Unrest
American Airlines has faced major operational challenges this summer, with widespread flight cancellations and delays attributed partly to cabin crew shortages amid ongoing labor disputes. At times, the airline has scrubbed nearly 10% of its flights, representing hundreds of daily cancellations. This has stranded passengers, damaged the airline's reputation, and underscored the real-world impacts of the deteriorating relationship between management and unions.
For flight attendants, understaffing reflects scheduling practices and working conditions that they argue are unsustainable. Mandatory overtime, inadequate rest periods, and inconsistent schedules have left crew members fatigued and frustrated. Despite raising concerns, attendants say American has failed to address staffing inadequacies, instead using threats and retaliation to pressure existing crew to cover open flights. This Band-Aid approach has backfired, exacerbating attrition as overworked attendants quit.
American canceled over 1,500 flights during the Independence Day weekend, disrupting travel plans for thousands. Betty Simms was left stranded after her Miami to Dallas flight got scrapped just hours before departure. “It ruined my whole trip,” she lamented. “American kept saying it was weather, but you could tell it was more than that.”
Along with weather-related cancellations, American scrubbed flights preemptively due to inadequate crew numbers. An airline spokesperson admitted that labor shortages have negatively impacted operations. Still, management maintains the union's informational picketing worsened disruptions.
Yet attendants argue American created the staffing crisis through inaction. “We’ve warned executives about these issues for months, but they just don’t listen,” said longtime flight attendant Jan Worthington. “Now passengers are paying the price.” She thinks management should change protocols to improve rest periods between assignments.
American’s labor troubles have rippled through airports nationwide. Chicago O’Hare saw over 300 flight cancellations one July weekend, disrupting travel and creating crowds. Industry analysts worry that operational instability will continue without productive dialogue between the airline and its unions.
Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Flight Attendants Feel Pressured to Fly While Sic
American Airlines flight attendants say they increasingly feel compelled to work while ill, fatigued or injured, despite the aviation safety risks. Many accuse management of using threats and retaliation to pressure crew to fly their scheduled trips regardless of fitness to work.
Numerous attendants have come forward to share alarming accounts of being intimidated or coerced into operating flights when they called in sick. They describe being harassed at home by supervisors demanding return to duty authorizations from doctors. Others say managers directly warn them not to call off sick, or else face attendance policy violations or more scrutiny of their schedules.
Veteran attendant Paula Engels recalls being threatened with firing after calling in sick with a bad case of food poisoning. Despite explaining her illness, she says her supervisor insisted it was unacceptable to miss her trip and ordered her to show up at the airport anyway.
"I was so dizzy I could barely stand, but she didn't care. She told me I needed to be on that flight no matter what," recounts Engels. "It was clear she just wanted a warm body on the aircraft, not a crew member fit to provide safe service."
Many attendants share stories of being denied sick or personal leave, even when they provide ample notice per policy. Instead, they're informed taking time off will result in attendance points or trigger questioning of their medical fitness for duty. This leaves them feeling their jobs are perpetually on the line.
Flight attendants argue this pressure to work sick is driven by inadequate staffing levels, not individual abuse of leave policies. They believe management should address understaffing issues rather than intimidating crew.
"It's quicker and cheaper for management to lean on current staff than improve hiring and scheduling. But it jeopardizes safety," contends Frank. "No one should be coerced into flying when they pose a risk to themselves and others. Intimidating sick crew members fixes nothing."
Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Airline Denies Allegations of Worker Intimidation
American Airlines adamantly denies accusations that management uses threats and intimidation to pressure sick or fatigued flight attendants into operating scheduled flights. The airline insists these allegations of worker mistreatment are "completely false." However, the carrier stands accused of fostering a hostile work environment amid contentious contract negotiations and staffing struggles.
Numerous attendants have come forward with alarming accounts of retaliation for calling in sick or refusing assignments when unfit to fly. But American maintains that any cases of improper conduct are isolated incidents, not systematic misconduct condoned by leadership.
According to airline spokesperson Michelle Wilcox, "The stories being spread by the flight attendant union are misleading attempts to gain sympathy during ongoing contract talks. American respects its crew members and adheres to all regulations regarding flight time limitations and fitness for duty." She emphasized that the airline maintains strict policies prohibiting retaliation or coercion of employees.
American acknowledges facing staffing challenges that contributed to an unusual number of cancellations this summer. But Wilcox contends the airline is actively recruiting and hiring to stabilize operations. She believes issues stem from industry-wide labor shortages following pandemic downturns, not internal company problems.
"While weather played a significant role, the rapid resurgence in travel demand has made it difficult for all carriers to adequately staff flights. This is in no way unique to American," said Wilcox. "We empathize with crew members impacted by cancellations, and are taking steps to build crew resiliency."
Flight attendants remain skeptical, arguing that American exacerbated its vulnerability to disruptions by overworking existing staff and ignoring retention concerns. But Wilcox asserts that management values attendants and wants to support them.
Without evidence of systematic abuse, the airline maintains that accusations of intimidation are overblown. American believes any issues with individual managers reflect isolated mistakes, not top-down malice. Though relations remain strained, the carrier hopes addressing staffing shortfalls will ease tensions.
Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Labor Groups Demand Oversight Investigation
The growing tensions between American Airlines management and its flight attendants have now captured the scrutiny of federal labor regulators and Congressional oversight committees. Multiple transportation industry unions are demanding investigations into the airline's alleged retaliation and intimidation tactics.
In a recent letter to the House Transportation Committee, a coalition of unions urged the panel to examine "American's culture of fear" and its impacts on aviation safety. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, contends that intimidating sick or fatigued crew members into flying crosses a dangerous line.
"When an airline cares more about completing schedules than about putting crew in position to safely operate flights, government intervention is necessary," wrote Nelson. She believes overextended crews are at higher risk of errors, citing recent American flights that landed off-course due to navigational mistakes.
The Allied Pilots Association echoed these safety concerns in its own letter to Congressional leaders. Captain Dennis Tajer suggested that intimidated crew members may hesitate to address potential flight issues or voice concerns to fellow crew. "Pressuring people to fly sick, or work excessive hours, dulls vigilance," he warned. "This jeopardizes safety for passengers and crew alike."
Citing the severity of allegations, multiple lawmakers have pledged reviews of the situation. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, stated he takes reports of retaliation and coercion "extremely seriously." Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration says it is monitoring American's situation.
Labor groups are also lobbying the National Mediation Board to intervene, arguing that management's conduct violates the Railway Labor Act's prohibition on interference with worker organizing. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants contends that American aims to discourage union participation through systematic intimidation and harassment.
Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Unions Seek Injunction Against Alleged Retaliation
After months of sounding alarms, flight attendant unions are turning to the courts for relief from American Airlines' alleged campaign of threats and intimidation. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) recently filed a legal motion seeking a federal court injunction to halt what it claims is management's pattern of retaliation against workers. This escalation comes amid a deteriorating relationship between the airline and its unionized cabin crew members.
The APFA contends that American has fostered a hostile work environment that endangers both staff and passengers. By reportedly intimidating attendants into working while ill or fatigued, the airline shows willful disregard for safety, argues the union. It wants an immediate court order blocking American from pressuring crews to fly when unfit, which it believes would trigger constructive engagement on underlying issues.
Increased disciplinary actions, invasive medical inquiries, and overt threats have left attendants feeling under attack for exercising their rights, claims APFA. Flight attendant Paula Engels recounts being threatened with firing for calling in sick, illustrating the climate of fear workers allegedly face. Others describe ruthless schedule scrutiny whenever they request leave.
While American denies any systemic retaliation, attendants feel these responses are designed to coerce compliance from an already depleted staff. "Punishing people for being human is unacceptable," contends 25-year veteran Helen Gebhard. She hopes legal action forces American to instead address the underlying staffing crisis.
The APFA contends that American must cease its bullying tactics immediately before irreparable damage is done. But it also wants collaboratively developed policies that support attendants through challenges, allowing them to provide the safe, reliable service passengers deserve.
Legal experts say the request faces hurdles, as courts are often reluctant to intervene in labor disputes. But the APFA believes proving a pattern of unlawful retaliation could compel action. If granted, an injunction would provide urgent relief while attendants press longer-term solutions.
Turbulence Ahead: American and Flight Attendants Feud Takes Ugly Turn - Workers Protest Outside American Headquarters
Carrying picket signs and chanting slogans, over a hundred American Airlines flight attendants and their supporters staged a lively protest outside the airline's corporate headquarters in Fort Worth last Tuesday. The demonstrators aimed to draw attention to management's alleged campaign of harassment and intimidation targeting union members.
"No more fear and retaliation!" cried the crowd as they marched in front of the corporate campus gates. Many wore union t-shirts and held signs with messages like "Let Us Call in Sick" and "Staff Flights, Not Cut Flight Staff." The peaceful protest was organized by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants as tensions with American Airlines escalate.
Veteran attendant Amy Frank decided to join the demonstration after feeling pressured to work while injured by her supervisor. "We're here to demand respect and safe working conditions," stated Frank. She expressed hope that the public show of solidarity would convince management to change course.
Several flight attendants spoke to reporters about their experiences of intimidation. Paula Engels described being threatened with termination for calling in sick with food poisoning. "I was so dizzy I could barely stand, but they didn't care. I was ordered to show up no matter what," recalled Engels. "It's time for this culture of fear to end."
Local union leaders highlighted the sacrifices attendants have made during the pandemic and urged American to halt its antagonistic stance. "We've worked under tremendous strain for over two years now. Enough is enough," said APFA representative David Torres.
American Airlines maintains that allegations of retaliation are misleading ploys for sympathy amid contract talks. But demonstrators insist the stories are real and aim to protect passenger safety. "This isn't about money, it's about being able to do our jobs properly," asserted Frank.
The rally concluded with attendants singing modified version of popular songs like "Leaving on Jet Plane" with pro-union lyrics. Although American headquarters was closed for the holiday weekend, the groups hopes footage of the energetic event draws public scrutiny to their situation.