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American Airlines Flight Attendant Union & Management Get Into T-Shirt Battle

Labor relations between American Airlines management and flight attendants aren’t good right now. Flight attendants are understandably seeking a new contract, and they’ve even voted to authorize a strike.

Flight attendants are expressing their displeasure with management and showing solidarity in a variety of ways, and one of those has caused the filing of an interesting grievance, as flagged by @xJonNYC. I first wrote about this yesterday, but the union has contacted me to clarify a point, which changes my perspective on this topic.

Flight attendants restricted from wearing certain union shirts

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) has filed a grievance over what it’s calling management’s misapplication and misinterpretation of the collective bargaining agreement.

According to the union, American’s Managing Director of Labor Relations has informed the APFA President that flight attendants are prohibited from wearing red APFA logo shirts on American Airlines flights when deadheading (so they’re being paid, but not working the flights), as well as during their training. Management argues that wearing these shirts violates the company’s policies.

Here’s what management writes in the note to flight attendants:

Section 16.E. of the JCBA prohibits wearing t-shirts and slogans when deadheading. Additionally, in Training, we’ve had a longstanding business casual dress code for training, and shirts with slogans are not in line with that policy.

And here’s Section 16.E., which is being referenced:

A deadheading Flight Attendant must be in uniform or wear the normal nonrevenue attire applicable to the class of service, except the Flight Attendant may not wear shorts, undershirts, or t-shirts with slogans.

Here’s what the union argues:

The JCBA does not define what a “slogan” is, however, according to Oxford Languages, a “slogan” is defined as “a short and striking or memorable phrase used in advertising.” Conversely, a “logo” is defined as “a symbol or other design adopted by an organization to identify its products, uniform, vehicles, etc.” The APFA logo is clearly a symbol, not a phrase, meaning a shirt displaying the APFA logo is not a “t-shirt with a slogan” as prohibited by Section 16.E of the JCBA.

The Company permits – and likely encourages – its employees to wear attire with the American Airlines logo on it while traveling and, in turn, presumably does not categorize such attire with its own logo as a “shirt with a slogan on it.” Succinctly put, in relation to the APFA logo shirts, the Company arbitrarily makes this distinction in an effort to prohibit Flight Attendants from proudly supporting and showing solidarity with their Union. It is unquestionably evident that the Company’s prohibition of Flight Attendants wearing an APFA logo shirt to/from and while attending training is solely intended to “chill” and/or suppress lawful union activity.

Is there another side to this story?

The disagreement here seems to come down to whether the union t-shirts contain a logo (which is fine) or a slogan (which isn’t fine). The union argues that the shirts just have a logo.

@xJonNYC had posted something that was shared with him, about how some of the t-shirts reportedly not only have the APFA logo, but also say “WE ARE READY” in all caps, and when you read it top to bottom, it spells “WAR.”

The APFA’s “WE ARE READY” campaign

I can totally understand how management could argue that this would be a slogan.

However, a union representative shares with me that no official union t-shirts actually have that branding, but rather it’s only available in a social media toolkit online. He has reiterated that the shirts are only printed with the union logo and name, similar to the red ones pictured below.

If that’s the case, then it’s absurd for management to try to come after the union in this way. A shirt simply having the name of the union and the standard logo absolutely doesn’t constitute a slogan. For that matter, it’s totally standard for employees to have union branding even on their uniforms.

Now, it’s of course possible that people are wearing non-official union shirts as well. But management isn’t specifically referencing that, but rather is going after all union t-shirts.

I think the even bigger question is why management thinks that this is a battle worth picking? I mean, flight attendants understandably want a new contract and morale is low, so what exactly is management trying to accomplish?

Bottom line

The latest battle between American Airlines management and flight attendants involves t-shirts. Specifically, some employees are wearing union t-shirts at training and while on flights (when not working them). The airline argues that this violates the company’s policy against shirts with slogans, while the union argues that this is a logo.

Given that union members are reportedly only wearing shirts with the union’s name and logo (and not any other phrases), I think the union is in the right here.

What’s your take on this situation?


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