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Democrats in Congress say federal mediators should let airline workers strike when it’s ‘necessary’

A group of 32 senators say federal mediators should speed up labor negotiations between airlines and their flight attendants and other employees, even allowing them to strike “if necessary.”

Lawmakers said Wednesday that airlines feel no pressure to reach contract deals quickly because federal law makes it difficult for airline workers to strike. That means the conversations drag on for years, they say.

The senators — 31 Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont — joined House Democrats in voicing their opinions, as flight attendants at American Airlines and United Airlines try to gain more influence at the negotiating table.

Before they can legally strike, airline workers need permission from the National Mediation Board, which must determine that more negotiations are hopeless. The board has already done that turned down a request from American’s flight attendants.

The legislators complained in a letter to the board that without new contracts, airline workers can live for years without a raise, “while airlines make record profits.” They asked the board to use all its powers, including granting permission to strike “if necessary,” to settle long-running negotiations.

The senators said the ability to strike is a fundamental right that has helped workers in other sectors win “groundbreaking new contracts in recent years.”

Flight attendants at American, United and other airlines have tried it vote for strike permits And pickets at airports to put pressure on the airlines. Workers are frustrated that they have been unable to win the big pay increases that Delta, United, American and Southwest pilots have received under contracts approved since early last year.

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The mediation council has not authorized a strike since 2010, when Spirit Airlines pilots staged a brief strike. Even with the consent of the mediators, strikes can be postponed or blocked by the President and Congress.

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