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Hundreds of United flight attendants picket in Houston, across U.S.

Date: August 31, 2023

Hundreds of United flight attendants picket in Houston, across U.S. ahead of Labor Day weekend

Erica Grieder, Houston Chronicle

Aug. 31, 2023

United Airlines flight attendants picket on Thursday along JKF Boulevard outside George Bush Intercontinental Airport as they seek a new contract with the airline.

A number of United Airlines flight attendants made a point of taking the day off on Thursday, instead putting on their uniforms and going to work on a picket line outside George Bush Intercontinental Airport. 

"We're out here today to demand that United fix the operational issues that are affecting both the flying public and our crews, and in addition that they get serious about a contract," said Elizabeth Hibbard, president of AFA-CWA Local 42, the union that represents about 3,000 United flight attendants based in Houston and Austin. 

With Labor Day weekend approaching, United flight attendants picketed in 20 cities across the country, as well as in London and Guam. Contract negotiations, which began after the current contract became amendable in August 2021, have thus far not yielded an agreement. A key point of frustration for flight attendants is the inefficiency of operations, Hibbard said.

While United passengers are automatically pinged if a flight is cancelled, flight attendants are not. And they often face long hold times when they try to call the airline's crew schedulers; this creates an issue for passengers as well, because if flight attendants run into federal rest requirements, they are unable to work. 

"It's been the worst summer in decades in terms of delays, in terms of customers being stranded, in terms of flight attendants being stranded," said Hibbard, who has worked for the airline for 26 years, starting at Continental Airlines, which merged with United in 2011. 

"We’re continuing to work with the Association of Flight Attendants toward an industry-leading agreement," a spokesperson for the airline said in a statement. "All United flights will operate as planned while our flight attendants exercise their right to distribute information and picket while off-duty." 

Some of United's issues came to a head this summer during the busy travel days leading up to July 4th. In the last week of June, about 150,000 United passengers faced cancellations or delays after storms on the East Coast created a domino effect of delays and cancellations, a situation reminiscent of Southwest Airline's December 2022 meltdown. 

More than 250 people turned out for the Houston picket, While most were United flight attendants, they were joined by a number of United pilots, employees from Southwest, American and Mesa Airlines, members of other unions and the Texas AFL-CIO. Several truckers blasted their horns in solidarity as they trundled past on JFK boulevard. 

"This is a labor coalition," said Hibbard. "Labor unions in this country are getting smart and we're going to work together to help each other." 

United flight attendants, she said, stood alongside the airline's pilots when they picketed in Houston and other markets in May. Two months later, the Air Line Pilots Association announced United pilots had reached an agreement in principle with management, four years after contract negotiations began. 

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