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American Airlines pilots authorize strike amid contract talks

Pilots stand in a line holding picket signs. Three of the signs say "American Airlines Pilots Ready To Strike." One of the signs says "It's Time. Frustrated With A-A? So Are We."
Emily Nava
/
KERA News
American Airlines pilots staged an informational picket outside 10 airports including DFW on May 1, 2023. The picket came just hours after the pilots union voted to authorize a strike if contract negotiations stall.

With the resurgence of flying pilots say they’re overworked and underpaid. Now union leaders say their members voted "overwhelmingly" to authorize the strike.

American Airlines pilots voted "overwhelmingly" to authorize a strike after years of negotiations with the carrier, the pilots union announced Monday.

The strike authorization vote, which began April 1 and ended Sunday night, had 96% member turnout with 99% voting in favor, according to the Allied Pilots Association President.

"What we're telling the world is that management is pushing American Airlines to a strike," APA pilot and spokesperson Dennis Tajer said. "Our pilots are ready to strike. Now, it's a process, but that process has started."

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom has promised an industry-leading contract. The recent Delta deal with its pilots is the current standard, meaning American could offer $7-8 billion to the pilots over the next four years.

Pilots welcome the money, but say time off is also a consideration — especially after the pandemic’s peak. They say as air travel returned, too few staff left pilots and crews stranded far away and for too long.

In recent weeks both negotiating parties say talks have gone well, but the union wanted a strike option for its 15,000 pilots just in case they failed to reach a deal.

“The APA membership has spoken," read a statement from APA President Ed Sicher. "We 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.”

Before a potential strike could even occur, both sides would have to bring the dispute before the National Mediation Board.

Closeup of a man speaking in front of picketers.
KERA News
Emily Nava

American Airlines released a statement expressing confidence the two sides would reach a deal.

"The finish line is in sight," the statement read. "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."

The news was announced the same day union members organized informational pickets at American’s 10 largest airports, including DFW Airport, as well as airports in Washington D.C., Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

Dozens of pilots and airline industry workers lined up in front of the entrance to Terminal C at DFW Monday morning holding signs that read “It’s Time,” and “Ready to Strike.”

The union has spent four-and-a-half years negotiating with the carrier, and many pilots are frustrated, said Chris Torres, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association.

Torres, who spoke to reporters at the picket line about their reasons for the strike, said priorities for the union included more certainty in work schedules in more sick time.

“If we have to call out sick for one or two trips, we can deplete our entire sick time that we would accumulate in a year,” Torres said.

Another issue, according to Jason Gustin with the APA, is that when pilots sign up for one-day trips, they can often turn into three-or-four day trips.

“We also realize from our customers and passengers perspective, that's even worse, because every disruption in a pilot schedule translates into another missed flight,” Gustin said.

While the majority of pilots voted to strike, they may not actually strike anytime soon because the union is bound to a statutory process.

“We have 15,000 pilots, the majority of which in unity said – ‘We've had enough’ – this is time for us to get meaningful changes to our contract.” Gustin said.

Toluwani Osibamowo contributed to this report.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.
Pablo Arauz Peña is the Growth and Infrastructure Reporter for KERA News.