Alaska Airlines flight attendants authorize strike for first time in 3 decades

Flight attendants with Alaska Airlines voted to authorize a strike for the first time in more than 30 years on Tuesday.

News of the vote emerged as more than 60 flight attendants protested for better pay outside the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The vote does not mean a strike will occur.

But the decision raises the stakes in an effort by the attendants to negotiate what they say is their first new contract in a decade. They say Alaska Airlines has awarded large pay increases to pilots but does not even provide a liveable wage to some of its flight attendants.

The negotiations have dragged on for more than a year, and flight attendants have held multiple protests outside the Anchorage airport and other airports nationally.

Alaska Air flight attendants on Tuesday picketed outside 30 airports in three countries, said Rebecca Owens, spokesperson for the Local Council 30 in Anchorage for the Association of Flight Attendants. Flight attendants with 24 airlines were involved.

Alaska Airlines said in a statement on Tuesday it is making progress in the negotiations.


“We remain optimistic in the negotiations process,” the company said. “With six recently closed labor deals at the company and a tentative agreement reached in January for a new contract for our technicians, we’re hopeful to do the same for our flight attendants as soon as possible. AFA and Alaska leadership have met twice in the last three weeks and are continuing to bargain and meet with a mediator. Discussions have been productive and in the last two sessions, we reached four tentative agreements.”

“While talk of a strike is concerning, especially for our guests and the communities that rely on our service, it would not happen quickly,” the statement continued. “Many more steps would need to take place over many months, if not longer, before a strike is even possible.”

The dispute comes at a time that Alaska Air has faced disrupted flight schedules after part of the fuselage of a Boeing 737 Max 9 airplane blew off in midflight last month, an incident that led to groundings of the planes and that Boeing has said it’s accountable for.

Alaska Air is touting large profits and has offered $1.9 billion to acquire Hawaiian Airlines, Owens said.

But it hasn’t offered reasonable pay increases to flight attendants, she said. Many flight attendants receive poverty-level wages, forcing some to rely on their partner’s or spouse’s incomes for financial stability, Owens said.

[With some flight attendants on welfare, Alaska Airlines faces contract fight]

First-year flight attendants at the airline make an average base pay of less than $24,000 annually, union officials have said.

“This is not a job that pays enough to support yourself,” Owens said.

Dozens of off-duty flight attendants, joined by pilots, held picket signs and chanted nearby as she spoke. They marched in brisk winds near the Alaska Airlines terminal.

“Alaska makes $$$$,” some signs said. “We can’t make rent.”

More than 5,900 flight attendants at the airline voted 99% in favor of a strike this week, Owens said. The union had said ballots would be sent to 6,800 flight attendants.

Before a strike can occur, the National Mediation Board must declare that negotiations are deadlocked, placing both parties in a 30-day “cooling off” period leading to a strike deadline, the union has said.

The union follows a strike strategy known as CHAOS, or “Create Havoc Around Our System.” It employs unannounced strikes on random flights, Owens said.

The last time Alaska Air flight attendants went on strike was in 1993, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said in a statement on Tuesday.

The airline experienced “dramatic reductions” in ticket bookings since passengers didn’t know until the last minute if their flight would be affected, the union said.

“You can’t fly without flight attendants,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants International, said in the statement. “If Alaska management doesn’t remember what happens when you disrespect flight attendants, we are ready to show them. It’s past time for a fair deal.”

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or