Flight attendants for Hawaiian Airlines have voted to go on strike, with 99.9% voting yes and 95.1% participating in the vote.

That’s the “highest support for authorizing a strike in the history of the entire Association of Flight Attendants,” union spokeswoman Meghan Dooley said in a press release Wednesday.

But a strike can’t happen just yet. First the National Mediation Board must determine that mediation isn’t working, set a 30-day cooling-off period and release the parties from mediation. Only then can the union decide when and where to strike.

Jon Snook, Hawaiian Airlines’ chief operating officer, said in a phone interview that the strike vote is symbolic and no strike is imminent.

“Our guests need not worry that their travel times will be disrupted anytime soon. We’re a long way from that,” Snook said, adding: “It would be impossible to have a strike over the holidays at this point.”

Hawaiian Airlines Flight attendants and supporters hold signs at the Daniel K Inouye International Airport.
Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants and supporters hold signs at the Honolulu airport. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Snook said this is the first time that Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants have voted to strike, but that strike votes are common throughout the industry and are rarely followed by actual strikes.

Still, Snook said that the airlines appreciates how frustrating it has been to spend three years negotiating the contract without a resolution, and said Hawaiian Airlines is equally frustrated.

Contract negotiations started January 2017 and flight attendants in Los Angeles and Honolulu have been picketing for the past six months, said Dooley from the union.

At issue is pay. Even Snook says pay for Hawaiian Airlines’ flight attendants is below market. But the airlines and the union disagree on how much pay should increase.

Hawaiian Airlines Flight attendants and supporters march on the departure level at Daniel K Inouye International Airport.
A recent protest at the Honolulu international airport featured flight attendants and supporters holding signs bewailing long union contract negotiations. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Sharon Soper, president of the flight attendants’ union at Hawaiian Airlines, said in a phone interview that the union wants wages to catch up now that Hawaiian Airlines has been exceedingly profitable.

“They want us to pay for our pay increase, so we’re trying to hold the line,” she said. For example, the airlines is willing to raise wages but wants to increase health care premiums, she said. Currently the airlines contributes 5% of each workers’ pay in a 401k for retirement savings, but now Hawaiian Airlines is proposing changing that to a match instead of an across-the-board contribution, she said.

The union also wants Hawaiian Airlines to contribute to health care costs for retirees through employer-funded health care accounts, Soper said.

Soper says the strike vote is partly to let the company know that the flight attendants are serious.

“We’ve asked for (pay) comparable to the industry and the company is not willing to do that,” she said. “This isn’t good for the company to have this kind of unrest so we’d like to wrap this up.”

Snook said the company gave the union an offer on October 22 but has yet to hear back. The company’s proposal included a total increase in compensation, he said, noting that he believes the flight attendants’ current benefits are above market.

Snook said the company is trying to strike a balance between increasing wages and maintaining a competitive edge.

Compared with major airlines like American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines generates less revenue, he said.

The bulk of Hawaiian Airlines’ business is in trans-Pacific flights where the airlines competes with both national and international companies. Even in the neighbor island market, the airlines faces new competition from Southwest Airlines.

“We’ve got competition everywhere we turn. We have to make sure that with all competitors we’re cost competitive,” he said. “What has been proposed by the flight attendant union is more money than we can afford to spend and be competitive.”

The next round of negotiations is scheduled for Dec. 16.

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