By Tom Ozimek
The union that represents American Airline pilots announced Monday that its members approved a walkout ahead of the busy summer travel season, with nearly all of the participating pilots voting in favor of a strike.
The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents 15,000 American Airlines pilots, said in a statement on May 1 that its members have voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize the strike.
“The APA membership has spoken. 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,” Capt. Ed Sicher, APA president, said in a statement.
Voting began on April 1 and concluded on April 30, with more than 96 percent of APA members casting votes.
“With more than 99 percent of participating pilots voting in favor of authorizing a strike, our pilots’ resolve is unmistakable. We will not be deterred from our goal of an industry-leading contract,” he added.
The union said its members will conduct “informational picketing” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time at all 10 of the airline’s major hubs, including the airports Boston Logan International, Chicago O’Hare International, Los Angeles International, and New York’s LaGuardia.
The strike authorization puts added pressure on American Airlines to agree to pilot demands for higher salaries and better working conditions, with the sides said to be closing in on an agreement in principle.
Complex labor processes make it difficult for pilots in the United States to actually walk off the job, so the strike authorization seems to be mostly symbolic as the sides finalize the terms of a new deal.
‘Finish Line Is in Sight’
American Airlines told The Epoch Times in a statement that its leadership remains “confident that an agreement for our pilots is within reach and can be finalized quickly. The finish line is in sight.”
“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. Importantly, the results don’t change our commitment or distract us from working expeditiously to complete a deal,” the spokesperson added.
“We remain focused on completing the handful of matters necessary to reach an agreement our pilots deserve.”
In March, American Airlines chief executive officer Robert Isom said that his company was prepared to match the pay rates and profit-sharing formula that competitor Delta Air Lines provided in its new pilot contract.
Delta’s recently ratified contract provides 34 percent cumulative pay increases over four years, worth around $7 billion. The deal also provides a lump-sum one-time payment, lower health insurance premiums, as well as improvements in holiday pay and vacation time.
Isom said in March that a deal like Delta’s “would be a game changer for our pilots.”
To match Delta’s deal, American Airlines pilots could see cumulative pay increases of 40 percent over four years, Isom said at the time.
Experts say that Delta’ deal has put pressure on other carriers to offer better terms as competition for pilots grows.
Ben Friedrich, a professor at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, said that airlines are “in the war for talent.”
“It’s hard for other airlines to retain their pilots unless they follow suit and raise pay to a similar extent,” he added.
Some airline executives have expressed concern that generous pay increases for pilots would make it harder for highly indebted carriers to fix their balance sheets.
In its latest earnings report for the first quarter of 2023, Delta touted its latest deal and predicted record revenue in the coming months.
“Thanks to the outstanding work and dedication of the Delta team, 2023 is off to a strong start,” said Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO. “We provided well-deserved pay increases for our people and paid more profit sharing than the rest of the industry combined.”
After announcing that Delta generated nearly $5 billion of operating profit over the past year, Bastian said Delta is “building momentum” after its recently announced deal.
“For the June quarter, we expect to deliver record revenue, and an adjusted operating margin of 14–16 percent with earnings per share of $2.00–2.25,” Bastian said.
Reuters contributed to this report.