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The soaring fight: United Airlines flight attendants protest for improved working conditions at Cleveland Hopkins Airport

The scene at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is one to behold: Picketers wearing royal blue uniforms and union polo shirts chant, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Corporate greed has got to go!” as they held their signs high in front of Door 6 to protest United Airlines’ unequal pay and increasingly demanding work hours. The protests stem from concerns among United employees regarding the pay discrepancy between the company’s C-suite workers and the cabin crew on the planes.

The demonstration took place on Oct. 26 with dozens of employees standing in the arrivals lane. The protest was one of many that took place across the country, as it was a nationwide day of action. Protests took place in international airports such as Tampa, Austin-Bergstrom, Newark Liberty, Harry Reid and O’Hare.

United disclosed their third quarter revenue of $15 billion. Additionally, estimates the enormous annual salaries of the airline’s executives. It is reported that Vice President Greg Hart makes $850,000, President Brett Hart earns $775,000 and CEO Scott Kirby leads the pack with a salary of at least $1 million.

In contrast, the average flight attendant in the state of Ohio makes a yearly salary of around $33,700, which comes out to around $16 an hour. According to Miranda Beal in The Cleveland Scene, “Year after year, they’re making record revenues. And the upper management? They’re giving themselves raises, no problem. All while they’re nickel and diming the 26,000 flight attendants.”

Prior to the rally, union leaders released a statement clarifying their objectives with the protests: “United flight attendants in Newark and at almost 20 cities across the country on Thursday are taking this fight to the streets and demanding an industry-leading contract that gives flight attendants a share of the hefty profits their work produces for United.”

However, the protests do not solely derive from issues with pay inconsistencies. Workers have also expressed their indignation with United’s trimming of employee benefits as well as the company’s pushing of employees to work 18-hour days, which is three hours upwards of the previous 15-hour limit.

Flight attendants are also making a plea for more transparency and impartiality with flight delays and airport scheduling conflicts. While it is widely acknowledged that delays can be extremely burdensome for passengers, flight crews want to remind individuals that they also bear the consequences when such inconveniences arise.

“You want to know when you’re going home, what flights you’re going to work,” said Beal. “And not sit on hold for like six hours waiting. I mean, when [customers] sit on their delays, we’re sitting on the phone waiting with them.”

Additionally, with the upcoming Thanksgiving and Winter breaks, the protests have created an additional, unexpected layer of concern for students here at Case Western Reserve University: “I fly United so [I guess] I would be a bit concerned about my flight being affected but hopefully the issue is resolved by the administration listening to its employes like they should have been doing already,” said second-year student Keerthana Ashok.

Ashok also expressed her anticipation for the holidays, and consequently, a reprieve from her studies: “I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving because as a pre-med student I’ve been having back-to-back tests and I’m excited to have a chance to actually relax.”

Upheavals with airport and flight operations might manifest in the form of significant challenges. With flight attendants taking to flight lanes to express their grievances with United, there is a possibility of increased flight delays and unforeseen alterations to flight schedules. On top of securing transportation, managing tight schedules and navigating the maze-like airport, the additional stress with unpredictable changes in itineraries could create hindrances for students.

United addressed these concerns in a statement with News 5 Cleveland, saying, “We’re continuing to work with the Association of Flight Attendants toward an industry-leading agreement. All United flights will operate as planned while our flight attendants exercise their right to distribute information and picket while off-duty.”

Aligned with United’s official statement, flight attendants are seeking negotiations for a contract with the company that will address their objections. Previously, United pilots and cockpit crews were able to successfully negotiate a four-year contract this year that could potentially result in 40% raises during the duration of the deal. As a result, flight attendants are determined to win their own fair contract.

Beal said, “There’s a whole process involved, and this is the start of that process. This could lead to a strike. We’re ready to go to what it takes.”

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