American Airlines pilots have just voted to authorize a strike. However, don’t worry, as it’s a near guarantee that a strike won’t actually happen.
In this post:
American pilots vote in favor of a strike
In early March 2023, the Board of Directors of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines’ 15,000 pilots, voted unanimously to approve a motion directing an electronic strike authorization vote. With this, pilots had until April 30 to vote on whether or not they’d like to see a strike among pilots at the airline.
Results have been announced today, and it’s exactly what you’d expect. With over 96% of pilots voting, 99% of pilots have voted in favor of authorizing a strike.
Here’s how APA President Captain Ed Sicher describes this vote:
“The summer travel season is almost here, and we’re all wondering whether this will be another summer of uncertainty for American Airlines. Fortunately, there is an alternative. By embracing the win-win scheduling and work rule improvements APA has presented at the bargaining table, management can take steps to improve the airline’s operational reliability and efficiency.”
“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. 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.”
It’s almost certain that there won’t actually be a strike, and there most definitely won’t be one in the next couple of months. Just because pilots voted in favor of a strike authorization doesn’t mean they’ll actually go on strike.
Rather, American management and the union representing pilots have to follow the procedures of the Railway Labor Act, which includes going to the National Mediation Board, in hopes of coming to a resolution. A strike would only (eventually) be permitted if that process fails. Even then it wouldn’t be imminent, as there would first be a 30-day cooling off period before a strike could occur.
The reality is that strikes don’t happen often at airlines in the United States, and we haven’t seen one in over a decade. Of course that’s not to say it couldn’t happen in the future. Just for context:
- Alaska pilots voted in favor of a strike in May 2022, and then voted in favor a new contract in October 2022
- Delta pilots voted in favor of a strike in October 2022, and then voted in favor of a new industry-leading contract in March 2023
What does this strike vote really mean?
This strike vote is a bargaining tool, plain and simple, and nothing more. In response to this vote, American Airlines management has issued the following statement:
“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. We remain focused on completing the handful of matters necessary to reach an agreement our pilots deserve.”
For some context, in early March, American Airlines’ CEO offered pilots huge pay increases, whereby captains would be making up to $590,000 per year. He said he wanted to give pilots an industry leading contract, and wanted to get a deal done ASAP. A day later, pilots started voting on whether to authorize a strike.
Admittedly American pilots have been seeking a new contract for years, and have been waiting a lot longer than they wanted to. So voting on a strike authorization didn’t really come as a surprise, and was probably a last push by pilots to get management to secure a contract ASAP.
I imagine the timing was no coincidence, with the union starting this vote only shortly after American Airlines’ CEO announced the that he wanted to give pilots a great contract:
- The union may not have been happy with how American’s CEO presented this pay offer; rather than going through union channels, he wrote a letter directly to pilots outlining what was being offered
- With management and the union being very close to reaching an agreement, maybe this was intended to really pressure management to get a deal done, hoping that a contract could be ratified ASAP
Ultimately these strike authorization votes aren’t about actually striking, as much as they’re about strategically putting pressure on management to get a deal done. That very much seems like the motive here as well, and it’s exactly what we’ve also seen at Alaska and Delta. Expect a new contract in the coming months.
American Airlines pilots have overwhelmingly voted in favor of a strike authorization. 96% of pilots cast votes, and 99% of those pilots voted in favor of a strike. Management and the union seem to be very close to reaching an agreement, and I imagine we’ll see a tentative agreement revealed in a matter of weeks.
What do you make of this strike authorization vote?