Air Wisconsin Airlines flight attendants plan to demonstrate Thursday at Washington Dulles International Airport to draw attention to a labor dispute that’s dragged on at the regional airline since 2016.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) chose Dulles because it’s a busy hub for United Airlines, which partners with Air Wisconsin to handle shorter flights under the United Express brand.
Taylor Garland, an AFA spokeswoman, said the union hopes to pressure United to use its leverage on the smaller company to reach an agreement. With labor talks stalemated over pay, the union has also been threatening to strike.
Air Wisconsin, which originally began in 1965 to serve passengers flying between Appleton, Wisconsin and Chicago, now serves 70 cities, its website says. The airline’s website also says that it’s hiring pilots to keep up with demand as United Airlines’ partner on shorter flights.
The company, which is based in Appleton, Wis., did not respond to a voice mail left Tuesday with Air Wisconsin’s corporate communications office. Until last year, Air Wisconsin handled regional flights for American Airlines under the name American Eagle.
Garland said that, despite concessions by the union, the company has not come to the table with any proposals that would appreciably raise flight attendant pay that is as low as $15,000 a year.
“Pay is really, really a big issue here because it is so low,” Garland said. “Management at the table has really not budged.”
While that salary might have been competitive for employees living in Wisconsin at one point, she said, it’s nowhere close to a living wage in metro centers such as Washington or Chicago where the airline is now more active.
“Flight attendants are on the plane to get you off that plane in 90 seconds or less. They’re aviation’s first responders,” Garland said. “To be at such low wage rates is unacceptable, especially in an industry that is reaping in the profits.”
Last November, the AFA – which represents about 350 flight attendants at Air Wisconsin -- voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The talks have been overseen by the National Mediation Board. By federal law, the union would have to petition the board for a release that would allow them to walk out on strike, which could potentially lead to more widespread disruptions.