Alaska Airlines flight attendants mobilizing

TURBULENCE AHEAD Alaska Airlines and AFA are still bargaining, but flight attendants have begun ramping up protests at hubs like PDX, above.  | PHOTOs BY DON McINTOSH

By DON McINTOSH

In Portland, Aug. 15 was a scorcher of a day, with temperatures topping 100 degrees. But flight attendants at Alaska Airlines — members of the Association of Flight Attendants union — were determined to make a point. So more than 250 of them gathered for two hours in their blue Alaska uniforms outside Portland International Airport. And thousands more assembled at SeaTac and LAX, San Francisco, Anchorage, and San Diego, in what they called a “systemwide day of action.”

Alaska Airlines committed to top industry pay in exchange for an expedited bargaining schedule that began last year. But the company appears to have reneged on that pledge, despite reporting record-breaking profits last year, says Steve Maller, president of AFA’s Alaska Airlines Council 39 PDX.

“The offer comes in at roughly 9%, which to some people might sound like a decent raise,” Maller said. “But we haven’t seen any significant improvement in our contracts since 2014. We have fallen to number five or number six in the airline industry in terms of flight attendant compensation.”

Portland is Alaska Airlines’ third largest hub. Roughly 700 flight attendants are based out of PDX. From the looks of it, those who weren’t working Aug. 15 were protesting. Joined by uniformed Alaska pilots — members of the Air Line Pilots Association — flight attendents assembled in short-term parking at PDX and marched in groups of 30 to the Uber/Lyft dropoff island outside departures. Lined up with signs, each group took part in five rounds of vigorous chanting.

“Alaska said we’re worth 9%,” said Krystle Berry, vice president of AFA Council 39 and a Alaska flight attendant for 17 years. Berry said the problem with that offer is it doesn’t catch members up for the purchasing power they lost during several recent years of high inflation.

The last time flight attendants negotiated a full contract with Alaska was 2014. That contract was extended at the time of Alaska’s 2016 merger with Virgin America, and again when COVID hit.

Alaska flight attendants are paid for the number of nautical air miles they fly, not the number of hours they work. The pay system is complex but Berry boils it down to a starting pay of about $25,000 a year, which rises with seniority to $55,000 a year.

AFA members say it’s time for a real raise. And they mean to get it. As some of their signs say, “Pay us or CHAOS.” CHAOS is AFT’s trademarked strategy of unpredictable intermittent strikes. CHAOS shut down Alaska in 1993, and led to raises of up to 60%.

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