American Airlines flight attendants picket

American Airlines flight attendants picket outside Ronald Reagan National Airport on August 30, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia.

(Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

US Strike Wave Could Soon Grow as Airline, Healthcare Workers Fight for Decent Contracts

"We are not alone," said the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. "Our struggle is part of a larger struggle by working people standing up against corporate greed."

The nationwide U.S. strike wave that has seen hundreds of thousands of autoworkers, screenwriters, actors, hotel workers, baristas, and others walk off the job to win better wages and benefits could soon get even bigger, as tens of thousands of flight attendants and Kaiser Permanente employees prepare to take action amid stalled contract talks.

"We are not alone," the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents more than 26,000 American Airlines flight attendants, told its members in an update on contract negotiations earlier this week. "Our struggle is part of a larger struggle by working people standing up against corporate greed. Autoworkers are on strike against the Big Three, as are actors and screenwriters."

Late last month, APFA members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if management stands by a contract proposal that the union criticized as inadequate.

More than 6,500 Alaska Airlines flight attendants represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA are also threatening walkouts as they push for substantial wage increases. The flight attendants have been working under the same contract since 2014.

Flight attendants with Southwest and United Airlines are also fighting for new contracts.

Meanwhile, the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history is looming as 85,000 Kaiser Permanente employees represented by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions demand a new contract that addresses understaffing and insufficient pay. Their current contract expires on September 30.

In recent weeks, Kaiser Permanente workers in Colorado, Oregon, California, and the Washington, D.C. area have voted to authorize strikes.

"We will take action if Kaiser Permanente does not come to the bargaining table to properly address our priorities—including staffing, patient care, and a consistent national wage increase to reward and retain our healthcare workers," the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2 said in a statement earlier this week after 98% of its members voted to authorize a strike.

Caroline Lucas, the executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, toldThe Washington Post that "we hope that there will be no work stoppage, that there will be no need to strike, and that we'll reach a resolution this week."

"But our workers are so burned out and so pushed to the brink that they’re ready to walk off for up to two weeks if that's what it takes to get a respectful contract," Lucas added.

Management of Kaiser Permanente—which reported roughly $3.3 billion in net income during the first half of 2023—and union negotiators are currently holding a two-day national bargaining session.

More than 50,000 Las Vegas hotel workers could also soon be joining the wave of labor action, with the Culinary and Bartenders Unions set to hold a strike authorization vote on September 26.

"The current wave of strikes isn't bad for America. It's good for America."

More than 350,000 workers have gone on strike across the U.S. this year in pursuit of higher wages, improved benefits, and better working conditions that reflect the surging profits of their employers. Recent data from the U.S. Labor Department showed that 4.1 million days of work were lost nationwide last month due to strikes—the highest monthly total in more than two decades.

Last week, nearly 13,000 autoworkers walked out at three General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis facilities as the profitable companies refused to meet the United Auto Workers' demands, which include a 36% wage increase, an end to tiered compensation structures, and improved pension and healthcare benefits.

On Friday, the UAW is expected to announce strikes at additional locations as it ramps up pressure on the automakers, and the union's president has stressed that an all-out strike involving around 150,000 autoworkers remains an option.

With the UAW strike just beginning, it appears as if the monthslong writer and actor strike could be moving toward a conclusion.

CNBCreported that writers represented by the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood producers are "near an agreement" following a bargaining session on Wednesday.

"If a deal is not reached," the outlet noted, "the strike could last through the end of the year."

In a column for The Guardian earlier this week, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich argued that "the current wave of strikes isn't bad for America. It's good for America."

"American workers still have little to no countervailing power relative to large American corporations. Unionized workers now comprise only 6% of the private-sector workforce—down from over a third in the 1960s," Reich wrote. "Which is why the activism of the UAW, the Writers Guild, SAG-AFTRA, the Teamsters, flight attendants, Amazon warehouse workers, and Starbucks workers is so important."

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