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American Airlines union seeks Biden support in contract fight

American Airlines flight attendants and their supporters form a picket line outside the White House (ALEX WONG)
American Airlines flight attendants and their supporters form a picket line outside the White House (ALEX WONG)

Dozens of American Airlines flight attendants demonstrated Thursday in front of the White House as they seek to be allowed to strike during protracted contract negotiations.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants organized the Washington rally along with parallel events at about a dozen US airports.

"Flight Attendants are the only employees at American Airlines who have not had a raise in the past five years," said the APFA, which represents more than 27,000 workers at the big US carrier.

"We've reached an impasse with American Airlines in our negotiations, and we're coming here to talk to President Biden, to show President Biden that we need to be released to strike," said Erik Harris, an American Airlines flight attendant based in Philadelphia.

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Biden "can show us that he's a union president by telling the National Mediation Board (NMB) to release us to strike," Harris said.

An American Airlines spokesman said the company's latest offer includes an immediate 25 percent increase in flight attendant pay.

"We're ready to get a deal done quickly and are back at the negotiating table next week to do that," the spokesman said.

The two sides have been in negotiations under a mediation process with the NMB for six months to reach a new contract.

Under the US Railway Labor Act, unions can only undertake a strike following a 30-day cooling-off period if they are released by the NMB.

The law, first enacted in 1926, aims to avoid an interruption of interstate commerce by providing a process for mediation.

In August more than 99 percent of APFA members who voted authorized a strike.

On Thursday, the APFA called on Biden and other elected officials "to respect and help restore airline Unionized labor's right to strike," the group said in a statement.

"There's such a disparity between the top executives as well as our newest flight attendants," said Diane Britton, a flight attendant with the carrier. "We have new flight attendants living out of their cars that have to work two or three jobs."

The United States, like other countries, has seen a wave of action by organized labor in recent months.

Biden has relentlessly courted unions as he competes with Republican opponent Donald Trump for working-class voters' support and even appeared on a picket line last year during a strike against the big three US car giants.

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