Labor History in 2:00

November 18 - Flight Attendants Defang American Airlines

November 18, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1993.

That was the day 21,000 attendants, mostly women, caught American Airlines by surprise in their first strike ever against the company.

80% of all fights were cancelled a week before Thanksgiving as solid picket lines formed at forty airports across the country.

CEO Robert Crandell, who commanded a $ million a year salary and preferred the nickname “fang,” was at a loss when flight attendants refused to be bullied by threats of scab replacements.

Hoping to smash seniority and scheduling rights, he cancelled all vacations for months. 

Crandall’s claims to company losses could hardly be believed after the company reported third-quarter profits of $118 million. 

Attendants were fed up with years of concessionary contracts that reduced their wages by as much as 40%.

One woman picketer summed up the company’s attitude: “We’re just a bunch of skirts.” 

The strike was so popular that pilots and Teamsters often joined picketers. 

In New York City, 200 members of Local 1199 hospital workers walked the picket line in solidarity. 

Fed up machinists at United Airlines in Denver were so inspired, they staged a solidarity sickout the first day of the strike. 

Four days later, President Clinton intervened to end the strike and force binding arbitration. 

While many saw this as a victory, workers returned to their jobs under the same conditions that forced them to strike while they waited for arbitrators to render a decision. 

Two years later, arbitrators finally rendered a decision.

They awarded American the right to reduce staffing on some flights.

But attendants would win a 17% wage increase and retain most work rules.

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