A Vote to Strike Sends Message of Strength

October 28, 2019, 2:21 PM HST (Updated October 28, 2019, 2:38 PM)
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Starting Monday, more than 2,000 flight attendants with Hawaiian Airlines will cast their ballots on whether or not they wish to authorize a strike.

This would be the first strike in the company’s 90-year history. For the past year, Hawaiian Airlines has been in mediation with the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA over keeping up with industry standard wages and benefits. Up to now, the parties have not been able to reach an agreement.

“We have more than 2,100 members of the Hawaiian Airlines Association of Flight Attendants (HAL AFA) and for a large portion, this is their first contract negotiation,” Hawaiian Airlines stated in an email.

PC: Hawaiian Airlines.

Jaci-Ann Chung, local executive council president AFA-CWA, said while the airline recognizes its flight attendants for their outstanding service, the company is not willing to show it appreciates them at the bargaining table. The sentiment among flight attendants, she added, is it’s a fight.

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“No one wants to strike, but we need to send a strong message,” Chung said. “It was not a light decision.”

While the company has agreed to pay increases, Chung said, those would not bring wages up to industry standards.

“Right now, they’re asking to take stuff away, which is shocking when the company is making record-breaking profits,” she said.

Chung said the company is asking for concessions on changing the 401k match, reducing staffing on some of the aircraft and asking flight attendants to pay more toward their medical coverage.

Even with the proposed increase, Chung said, it would be a wash because of the company’s proposals.

The starting wage of a flight attendant is $24.50 per hour. The challenge, Chung said, is flight attendants don’t have 40-hour work weeks, so the wage sounds fantastic only on paper. At 20 years, a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant is making up to $55.52 per hour, while at Southwest Airlines, the wage for a 20-year employee is about $71 an hour.

Chung said it would take 50% plus one vote to authorize a strike. The voting process is online and is confidential. Those not allowed to participate in the vote are flight attendants on leave or not-up-to-date on union dues.

The votes will be counted on Nov. 20. If flight attendants decide to authorize a strike, Chung said, the strike wouldn’t happen immediately.

“At the core, we love what we do. We love our passengers and we love being able to bring Hawai‘i to the world,” she added.

According to the National Mediation Board, a strike may occur only after the NMB has determined that further mediation would not be successful and after a cooling-off period of 30 days following NMB release from mediation.

Currently, Hawaiian Airlines stated, self-help actions are illegal as long as good faith negotiations are ongoing, which means flight operations and guests’ travel plans are unaffected by the latest union actions.

“Our flight attendants deliver the best hospitality in the industry, and we remain focused on working with AFA negotiators through federal mediation to finalize a new contract that recognizes our employees’ contributions to our success, reflects our industry standing, and allows Hawaiian to remain competitive and continue to grow,” Hawaiian Airlines states. “We have reached tentative agreements on more than half of the sections being negotiated, and both parties remain actively engaged in mediating sessions scheduled into December.”

Paula Mastringelo, staff negotiator for AFA, said if they do get to a point where flight attendants are allowed to strike, it would be intermittent striking where they would target specific aircraft and and individual flights.

“We want to reach a deal, but there are too many concessions on the table,” Mastringelo said.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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