Veteran Flight Attendant Leader Steps Down
By Ted Reed 12/08/10 - 01:24 PM EST 16 CommentsAdd Comment
WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- During a 44-year airline industry career, Pat Friend became a leader in a world shaped by two key societal trends: the emergence of women and the diminution of the labor movement.
UAL Friend, 64, will step down at the end of this month as president of the Association of Flight Attendants, the largest flight attendants' union with about 50,000 members, 84% of them women. President since 1995, Friend has served four four-year terms; she is also one of eight women on the 47-member AFL-CIO Executive Council. She has tirelessly fought regulatory and legislative battles, often to alter policies that affirm workplace gender inequalities, and she was often victorious.
At the same time, although it provided Friend with a platform to enable change, the labor movement lost influence during her career. Her biggest disappointment, in fact, came last month, when an effort to unionize Delta(DAL_) was defeated in a narrow vote.
"It's not for me that I am disappointed," Friend said. "It's really for the Northwest flight attendants, and the destruction of their 63 years of collective bargaining, and for the core group at Delta, who have been fighting for this since 1996. "
Friend reminded that the union is appealing the result, but said the potential loss at Delta "is not the way I thought [my career] would end."
Nevertheless, since Friend came to the union's Washington headquarters, "we have been successful legislatively," she said. "We were able to raise the profile not just of our union but of the entire flight attendant profession. Of the things that will still be here after I am gone, one is the recognition that we can take a lot of things off our bargaining table through legislation."
One big achievement involves the Federal Medical Leave Act, which protects workers' jobs by requiring large employers to offer unpaid leaves for reasons such as illness or care of a newborn. When the law passed in 1993, it defined the number of hours required to qualify, leaving out flight attendants whose hours are calculated in a way that makes them appear to be minimal.
"We were forced to negotiate with each employer the number of hours to qualify a flight attendant to use the law," Friend said. "Finally, this year, we got legislation passed that defined a full-time flight attendant in the law." Friend worked first with New York Senator Hillary Clinton, then with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington.