Hawaiian Airlines Flight Attendants Picket at Big Island Airports

February 4, 2020, 5:30 PM HST (Updated February 4, 2020, 4:59 PM)
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AFA Union member and Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant Janae Castillo and her mom, Cristy Castillo, a member of the American Postal Workers Union, showed solidarity and togetherness Tuesday morning at the Hilo Airport. Photo by Leslie Harlib

Nine Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants, picketing what they feel are unfair contract terms, launched their protests at both Hilo and Kona airports Tuesday morning.

It was the first time in three years of ongoing contract negotiations with Hawaiian Airlines that the company’s flight attendants and some of their allies demonstrated in airports across neighbor islands. In addition to protestors at both Big Island airports, there were simultaneous stands taken at Maui’s Kahului and Kaua‘i’s Lihue, as well as Honolulu and Los Angeles airports.

“It is the first time we are doing this island-wide leafletting in our history,” said Jaci-Ann Chung, who was reached on her cell phone at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. “We fall under the Railway Labor Act, so we can’t just strike. But we have 99.9% support from all flight attendants in the union for what we are doing.”

Chung is the Hawaiian Islands’ executive council president for the AFA-CWA, the Association of Flight Attendants Union, which is part of the larger Communication Workers of America. She said the campaign has been stepped up since last summer.

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“We are now trying to get more members of the larger working community to share our message,” she said. “We live in these communities and it’s important to let Hawai‘i residents know what is going on.”

“The disconnect for us is that Hawaiian Airlines is a hometown carrier, even though they now fly to many international destinations,” Chung continued. “We think our flight attendants and pilots live aloha, live pono. These are the airline’s stated values. But we don’t feel a trickle-down from the airline’s corporate office to our positions. Not just in the meaning of our values but in the day-to-day operations.”

Flight attendant Pulelehua Knight, a Hilo resident who has worked as a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant for 14 years and was taking time out from her job to stand on the line, said she feels sad and under-appreciated by her parent company.

“We love our jobs. We love sharing our culture. We try so hard and we keep getting asked to do more and more.”

She told the story of coping with a fire on a plane she served a couple of months ago just before it landed in San Francisco.

“Some people thought they were going to die. Some passengers told me later that the cabin crew’s faces, calm and smiling, helped them calm down and trust we’d make it through,” Knight recalled. “We are in the front lines. We deserve a new contract. But it seems like we are getting a pay cut in what is being proposed.”

Wearing their signature red tee-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “I Support Hawaiian Airlines Flight Attendants” and gathered in Hilo Airport’s dim, cool breezeway, this morning’s demonstrators smiled at passersby and offered them leaflets with such slogans as “Hawaiian Air Not Fair” and “Contract Now.”

Hilo residents Janae (left) and Cristy Castillo give leaflets to Longie and Lorna Dudoit of Molokai at Tuesday morning’s protest at Hilo Airport. Photo by Leslie Harlib

Some people shook their heads, turning away from the proferred papers and ignoring the protestors. One mother and daughter, faces hidden by heavy industrial masks and clearly stressed by the prospect of flying, looked at the ground, grimly headed for TSA.

There was plenty of sympathy as well. Most passengers took the flyers and exchanged smiles with the picketers.

Some stopped to chat with them, such as the Dudoits, a couple from Moloka‘i on their way home.

“They need recognition for what they do,” said John ‘Longie’ Dudoit. “They do a good job,”

“I don’t know why this situation has been going on three years,” Lorna Dudoit said. “Hawaiian Airlines seems to be doing very well.”

According to Alex Da Silva, director of external communications, the situation should be nearing a resolution.

“Hawaiian Airlines and the Association of Flight Attendants have been meeting regularly in an effort to reach an agreement that recognizes our flight attendants’ contributions to Hawaiian and our competitive position in the industry,” he said. “We have been negotiating under the guidance of a federal mediator for a year. We offered our latest proposal to the union last week.”

Da Silva said the airline company is interested in improving all aspects of its business, not just higher wages for its flight attendants.

“It is important to remember that there is a process in place for collective bargaining agreements,” he said. “The AFA and Hawaiian are following that process.”

“The pay proposal we advanced last week offered substantial pay raises across the board. Flight attendants at the top of the scale, with 20 years of experience or more, would see their pay increase 20% to 28% over the course of the five-year contract,” Da Silva said. “Their pay would be in the same range as the largest US airlines, which are many times our size.”

Regardless of the current state of the negotiations, people such as Cristy Castillo, a Postal Workers Union member and Hilo resident, turned out to support the protestors because her daughter Janae Castillo (on the picket line) and husband Ethan are both flight attendants with Hawaiian Airlines. Janae has been with the company for the past seven years, while Ethan has worked there for 32 years.

“First and foremost, we love this company. Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants have good jobs that allow us to make a decent living and live in the Hawaiian Islands,” Castillo said. “I’m here today to show my support for a more fair contract to help our local families. I want to see more growth and success for Hawaiian Airlines. But to do that, they have to support their whole employee family. Fair is fair. We feel a lot of us are underpaid. Not everybody makes a decent living.”

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