Air Wisconsin Flight Attendants Protest For Fair Contracts

Regional Flight Attendants Compensated 45 Percent Less Than Mainline Attendants

picketing signs for Air Wisconsin flight attendants
Picketing signs used during a rally at Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Demonstrators were calling for better wages for Air Wisconsin flight attendants. Alana Watson/WPR

Air Wisconsin flight attendants at Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport were protesting Tuesday for better wages.

The regional airline operates flights for United Airlines, the major American airline headquartered in Chicago.

On Tuesday, Air Wisconsin flight attendants were joined by union leaders, allies and other attendants from across the country to try to put an end to what they call discriminatory wages regional attendants face.

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Air Wisconsin flight attendants started negotiations for a new labor contract with the company back in 2016.

According to the Association of Flight Attendants union, Air Wisconsin flight attendants make as little as $15,000 a year. Their wages were frozen in 2007 and are compensated 45 percent less than mainline flight attendants.

Jamie Martinez was one of the protesters at Mitchell International Airport on Tuesday. He was been in the airline industry for over 15 years and has spent the last year with Air Wisconsin.

“We just want to get the company’s attention,” Martinez said. “We want to come to a mutual agreement at the table so that our flight attendants can live on livable wages, so they don’t have to be on government assistance of any sort.”

Martinez said that a lot of the flight attendants have to get food stamps to feed their families.

Ernie Lazernick, president for the Association of Flight Attendants at Air Wisconsin Airlines, said the company has offered the same pay scale for more than 12 years.

Lazernick said it’s up to United, one of the largest airlines in the world, to put pressure on Air Wisconsin and find the money for the flight attendants.

“It’s time for our flight attendants to get out of these poverty wages and be able to have a decent living and not have to work two or three jobs to survive,” Lazernick said.

Air Wisconsin has been having training classes for existing flight attendants every month this year. They usually have around 250 to 275 attendants at a time, but between June and July, they lost more than 60 flight attendants, according Lazernick.

Lazernick said he has never seen the turnover rate as bad as it is now.

“That’s 25 percent of our work force and the company blames it on normal attrition,” Lazernick explained. “You know if you treat your employees right, you’re not going to have that type of turnover.”

Because the airline falls under the Railway Labor Act, Air Wisconsin flight attendants aren’t allowed to strike until the National Mediation Board releases them to do so. The flight attendants put in a request in July but the board has not responded. Until then, they are rallying and leafleting to bring attention to the issue.

Air Wisconsin and United did not respond to requests for comment.

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