Remarks of Patricia A. Friend, International
President, Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO 2003 CWA
August 25, 2003
To my friends President Bahr, Vice President Cohen, Secretary-Treasurer
Easterling, honored delegates and guests, my sisters and brothers, thank
you for inviting me here to address your convention today.
The first flight attendants were nurses, employed by an early
predecessor of United Airlines. Back then we were needed to calm the
nerves of passengers, because flying was still an adventure.
But I am not a nurse.
In the “coffee, tea or me” days of the 1960s, ‘stewardesses’ --
as we were known then -- became a commodity, marketed as sex objects by
airline executives who thought exploitation was a business plan.
I am definitely not a commodity.
Since Deregulation in 1978, flight attendants have often been viewed as
little more than a number, as rapid expansion and cut throat competition
threatened to reduce the entire airline industry to the least common
denominator of unit labor costs.
And I am most certainly not just a number.
My name is Pat Friend. Who I am is a flight attendant and a union
I have flown for United Airlines for 36 years. I have been a union
member and activist since 1977. I am a safety professional, trained to
save lives and to respond to nearly unimaginable emergencies.
Today, I am the International President of the Association of Flight
Attendants and I am very proud to be here representing the 35,000 flight
attendants who are active members of AFA and the 10,000 members who are
AFA is primarily a volunteer organization. And I know you know what
Like CWA, the backbone of our organization is hundreds of flight
attendants who take time away from their busy schedules everyday --
flying, family, church, and school -- to further the profession that they
so deeply love through a union to which they are deeply attached.
This union got its start when a handful of brave women – pioneers in
the early days of the airline industry, and pioneers in the labor movement
– banded together to win better pay and working conditions. Edie
Lauterbach, Ada Brown, Frances Hall and Sally Thometz left a legacy of
tenacity and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. The union
they created lives in their image.
That legacy stands to soon become part of your legacy, as our two proud
unions stand today on the threshold of a merger of historic significance.
What have these flight attendants -- what has this union --
accomplished over the years? Let me tell you just a little of our history:
The Association of Flight Attendants is the direct descendant of the
Airline Stewardesses Association, which in 1945 was recognized as the
first union for flight attendants. The first contract we bargained won
United Airlines flight attendants a whopping $155 monthly salary, limited
duty hours, rest periods, and a grievance procedure. Ironically, these are
still some of the same issues we battle today – in the recent bankruptcy
negotiations, United management demanded the elimination of work rules
established in that first contract almost 60 years ago.
Since that first contract our accomplishments have been many. Our
continuing battles with airline management have propelled AFA into
becoming the “small Union with the loud voice.” Some of our most
important achievements parallel the political and social movements of our
In the late 1980s, Deregulation reduced AFA to just eight bargaining
units, and less than 20,000 members. While the major airlines – with the
exception of Delta -- had all been organized in the 1940s and 50s,
deregulation had spawned dozens of new carriers. Regionals, low-fare
operations, charter carriers – all with flight attendants who needed and
wanted union representation.
To survive, we began to organize just like CWA did after deregulation
of the telecommunication industry.
Through a series of battles that continue to this day, we have more
than tripled the number of AFA-represented bargaining units from eight to
26. At our peak before September 11, we represented over 50,000 flight
attendants in the U.S. and on four continents around the world. Today,
nearly 85% of flight attendants in America belong to a union.
Today, we can count the number of organizing targets left for us on one
hand. Easily, the biggest is Delta Air Lines.
AFA’s Board of Directors committed to organizing the unrepresented
flight attendants at Delta at our convention six years ago. We worked
closely with the Delta flight attendants. Developed an incredible network
of activists throughout the country. And, after four years of organizing,
we filed for an election.
What happened next was even too strange and overwhelming for the
The National Mediation Board ordered an election at Delta on September
On September 8, 2001, AFA and the Delta flight attendants marched at
the front of the New York City Labor Day parade.
The tragic events three days later shocked our nation, and devastated
the airline industry and the people who work in it. While we worked
tirelessly to gain new security measures to protect our lives at work,
airlines were failing because passengers were staying home.
Delta Management unconscionably used the terrorist attacks against the
flight attendants in the election. They said that Delta was on the brink
of financial ruin – that even the slightest change could send the
airline careening into bankruptcy. And, management said, “oh, by the
way, that union vote you flight attendants started would definitely put us
over the edge.”
The rules in organizing elections in the airline industry are different
from the rules under the NLRA. To win the Delta election, we needed fifty
percent plus one of the eligible voters to actually cast a ballot, or the
vote would fail. So, management’s strategy is aimed at getting people to
As the ballots were mailed to the flight attendants to vote in the
election, management began its campaign of fear by putting the workers on
notice that their choice was essentially a vote for bankruptcy, or if you
wanted to keep your airline flying and your job, to not vote at all.
As if the odds weren’t already stacked enough against us, the week
before the ballots were mailed from the National Mediation Board in
Washington, DC, the anthrax scare hit our nation’s capital.
So, as we were beginning the grueling work of getting flight attendants
to get their ballot out of the mail so they could vote, plastered on
television screens every day across the nation for the next few months
were people in hazmat suits picking up mail in Washington. It was widely
assumed that mail from Washington was infested with anthrax spores.
On February 1, 2002 we lost that election. Between the massive
interference campaign conducted by management, and the upheaval caused by
the events of September 11, it was hardly a fair vote.
But we have not lost our commitment to eventually organizing every
single flight attendant in the United States. And with CWA’s help, we
know we can do it.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks that killed 25 flight
attendants on four hijacked aircraft, our industry and our union changed
The downturn in the airline industry has resulted in a severe loss of
jobs in commercial aviation, most of them union jobs. AFA is no exception;
we have seen our dues paying membership shrink to just under 35,000.
However, we are still engaged in the same battles; we still provide the
same amount of services and programs; we still have the same number of
contracts to bargain and to enforce. These are the priorities of our Union
and we do not want to have to stop this work.
Shrinking membership means shrinking dollars. And shrinking dollars --
no matter how one looks at it -- equates to shrinking power. If we are to
continue in our mandate to be THE premier flight attendant union, it has
become obvious that we must change and grow, even in these difficult
Through the process of determining how to meet the challenges we face,
the leadership of AFA felt it was time for us to consider merging with
another union. A union with a similar vision and a similar commitment to
the members we represent.
AFA is no stranger to mergers and change. Our union was founded as the
independent Airline Stewardesses Association. And after a number of
changes through the years, which included merging with the Air Line Pilots
Association, the modern AFA was born in 1973, when we won our separate
AFL-CIO charter after separating from ALPA.
AFA has almost 60 years of proud history and tradition. We hope to have
another 60 years of continuing that tradition as the Association of Flight
Attendants – CWA.
Why CWA? Perhaps I can best answer that question by telling you what
the Communications Workers of America means to AFA.
We see CWA as a union that values what we value, whose goals for the
future match our goals for the future, whose integrity is unimpeachable,
whose leadership and membership are progressive, whose political agenda is
in sync with ours.
We see CWA as a diverse union, like ours, with a strong commitment to
civil rights and equal opportunity. Eighty-five percent of AFA members are
women, and we hail from over 40 countries around the world. Combining our
strength to serve this diversity is an exciting prospect to us.
We see CWA as a place where we would be welcome; where we can continue
on the course we have set for AFA. With CWA, we expect to be stronger,
more powerful and more stable while continuing to provide the leadership
and support our members need and deserve.
We see in CWA the creative approach to building a stronger union that
we like to believe we share. We see you take on Verizon using cutting edge
strategies and tactics, and we share that zeal for new approaches.
Keeping your Verizon members working while forcing management to pay
through the nose to keep strike breakers on the job just in case you go on
strike, will eventually break management’s back financially. They
can’t pay for it forever. And the strike breakers they have on staff
will get more and more disgruntled as the days go by.
While the rules are a bit different in the airline industry, we employ
a similar tactic in an attempt to leverage our power in contract
negotiations. We call it CHAOS – which stands for Create Havoc Around
Our System. CHAOS starts as a public information campaign, where we tell
people that if they are going to fly when we might strike, their plane
likely won’t take off. Once we get into self-help, or a strike
situation, we keep our members working, but threaten to strike any flight,
at any time.
Not knowing when or where we might walk off of a flight, and since we
cannot be replaced while we continue working, management must go through
the expense of training and flying strike breakers around the country. We
fight the battle of attrition like you are doing at Verizon – believing
our members can continue working longer than management can afford to pay
managers to fly all around the country in case we walk off a plane, or
before those managers get fed up and quit.
We believe this commitment to creativity and to cutting-edge tactics
will serve both AFA and CWA well. When we share what we know, both unions
will become stronger.
The objectives of our respective Unions mirror each other as
exemplified in our Constitutions. We both have, as our primary objective,
to unite other workers in a single cohesive union, and to improve the
conditions of workers, their rates of pay, hours and working conditions.
And the similarities continue: a belief in the education of our members, a
commitment to communication with our members, a resolve to insist our
members have safe workplaces, and a mandate to advance and vigorously
defend the causes and rights of our members.
Together, we have the opportunity to create a better, more powerful,
more visionary union. As I stand before you today I believe sincerely CWA
is the right home for the Association of Flight Attendants. I hope you
will join me -- join with my union, join in our traditions, join in our
legacy of hard-fought victories for the workers we represent – and
support the merger of AFA and CWA.