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American Airlines Pilots Threaten to Strike Ahead of Busy Summer Travel Season

Pilots voted overwhelmingly in favor of industrial action due to a dispute over pay and working conditions, although a strike isn't guaranteed

by Lauren Smith

May 3, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Blake Guidry / Unsplash

American Airlines pilots have overwhelmingly voted to approve a strike mandate as they wrangle with the carrier for better pay, scheduling, and work practices.

However, walk-offs aren’t guaranteed, with the carrier insisting negotiations were ongoing and airline staff subject to federal law limiting industrial action by transportation workers.

The Allied Pilots Association, representing 15,000 American Airlines pilots, said 96% of its members participated in the strike authorization vote held in April. Of those, 99% voted to authorize union leaders to call for a strike.

Photo: Courtesy of Joshua Hanson / Unsplash

Ed Sicher, president of the Allied Pilots Association, said pilots will “strike if necessary to secure the industry-leading contract that our pilots have earned and deserve – a contract that will position American Airlines for success.”

Locked in a competition for flight crew, American Airlines has already agreed to pay raises to match the 34% hike in wages won by Delta Air Lines pilots earlier this year. However, American Airlines pilots also want improved scheduling, which they say will reduce delays and cancellations following a year of airline chaos.

Ed Sicher, president of the Allied Pilots Association, said in a statement Monday: “The summer travel season is almost here, and we’re all wondering whether this will be another summer of uncertainty for American Airlines.”

“By embracing the win-win scheduling and work rule improvements APA has presented at the bargaining table, management can take steps to improve the airline’s operational reliability and efficiency,” he added.

Pilot Dennis Tajer told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the current schedule contributes to pilot burnout, requires the airline to keep large numbers of pilots on standby, and leads to excessive cancellations and delays. Last summer, American canceled 4% of its flights, he noted.

Photo: Courtesy of American Airlines

“We’re telling management we know that’s not going to work,” he said. “They’re selling tickets for a schedule that we don’t believe they’ll be able to service reliably.”

A representative for American Airlines told the Wall Street Journal that the airline is confident that it will reach an agreement with the pilots.

“The finish line is in sight,” said a spokesperson. “We understand that a strike authorization vote is one of the important ways pilots express their desire to get a deal done, and we respect the message of voting results.”

However, strict federal laws sharply constrain airline pilots in their ability to strike. Under the Railways Labor Act of 1926, airline and railways workers can only withhold their labor after they clear several hurdles, including a 90-day cooling-off period that can be imposed by a National Mediation Board when unions and management reach an impasse and a potential intervention by Congress.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines pilots opened their strike authorization vote this week, seeking a contract comparable to Delta pilots’. They’re also expected to approve the strike mandate overwhelmingly.

Adam Carlisle, Southwest’s president of labor relations, said talks with pilots would resume this week with help from federal mediators. The Dallas-based airline hopes to reach an agreement with the pilots that “places them competitively in the industry,” he said.