'Ready to strike,' but will they? American Airlines flight attendants picket at O'Hare

Waving "Ready to Strike" and "We Need a Contract Today" signs, American Airlines flight attendants picketed at O'Hare International and 11 other airports Wednesday.

Union leaders announced that more than 99% of members had voted to authorize a strike if contract talks "do not yield significant improvements."

"It's not imminent ... we're just willing to do whatever it takes," Association of Professional Flight Attendants representative Alyssa Kovacs said outside Terminal 3.

The APFA's contract expired in 2019. Wage-related issues, benefits and air rage are among the issues, union officials said.

"I love my job and I love my co-workers, but not having a contract for four years was tough," flight attendant Derek Chavez said.

"Working through the pandemic was rough too," he added. "We still get passengers who abuse us."

There were 1,161 reports of unruly passengers in 2019, and that spiked to 5,973 in 2021, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The total in 2022 was 2,455, and currently the 2023 tally is 1,334.

Chavez cited drunken passengers who board and "start accusing people or think we're doing something wrong." Disruptions can range from threats to throwing punches.

Typically, "I've been able to de-escalate it, but there's been times when I've feared for my life," Chavez said.

American Airlines officials had not responded to a request for comment as of late Wednesday afternoon.

Kovacs said the union is seeking "fair compensation for our time away from home.

"The entire boarding process is unpaid; we have three-hour sit times sometimes that also go unpaid," Kovacs said. "We are working 12- to 13-hour duty days and sometimes only bring home five hours of pay."

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  American Airlines flight attendants picket outside O'Hare Wednesday protesting working conditions and wages. Marni Pyke/
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