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The pilots received their salaries. Flight attendants are now pushing airlines to raise their salaries

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JANUARY 24: American Airlines workers picket at O’Hare International Airport on January 24, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. The workers, mainly flight attendants from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), were protesting to demand better working conditions as their contract negotiations continued. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Scott Olson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Airline pilots got pay rises worth billions of dollars in new labor agreements last year. Flight attendants are now calling for similar improvements.

Flight attendants United Airlines, American airlines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others demonstrated Tuesday at dozens of airports across the United States, demanding higher wages and a better quality of life.

“We’ve been in a 20-year period of austerity and it’s time for the industry to pay up,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents cabin crews at United, Spirit, Frontier and others.

The protests mark the first jointly organized pickets by the unions, which between them represent more than 100,000 U.S. airline flight attendants. New labor agreements would follow not only the pilot contracts, but also the pay increases won by auto workers, Hollywood writers and big companies like UPS.

Flight attendants at most of the biggest airlines have not received a pay rise since before the pandemic, which suspended contract negotiations, while the Cost of life has increased significantly in recent years.

U.S. carriers and others told CNBC they are optimistic about reaching deals with their flight attendants in the coming months.

Labor and fuel costs are the two biggest airline expenses.

Stagnant salary

Alaska Airlines flight attendants gather on a picket line to protest historic changes to their new contracts, currently under negotiation, at San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco, California, United States, on December 19, 2023.

Carlos Barría | Reuters

Threat of strike

During the pandemic, after most travel resumed, cabin crew members faced increased job stress from crowded planes, reduced staffing levels, overloaded schedules and sometimes unruly travelers, according to trade unions.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they’re unhappy,” said Conor Cunningham, an airline equity analyst at Melius Research. “Remember what happened during the pandemic: they had to be the sky police. They were hit by inflation like the rest of us and their salaries did not rise with it.”

Despite Tuesday’s picketing, the aviation industry is unlikely to see strikes or work stoppages like those seen in the auto and entertainment sectors last year.

Contracts for flight attendants and other aviation workers do not have an expiration date and would require federal release to go on strike. Still, several flight attendant unions have approved strike authorizations, and all four carriers are negotiating with their flight attendant unions through federal mediation.

Southwest Airlines flight attendants rejected a tentative deal in a vote last year.

“We reached an industry-leading agreement in principle with TWU 556 in October 2023 and we plan to meet next week with the union and the National Mediation Council to continue working towards an agreement that benefits our agents. onboard and to Southwest,” the airline said in a statement. statement.

Correction: Southwest Airlines flight attendants rejected a tentative deal in a vote last year. An earlier version misstated the timing.

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