Edith Lauterbach, the last founding member of the first union for flight attendants, died earlier this week in San Francisco. She was 91. In a statement, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA ) said:
The flight attendant community lost our hero, our guiding light….As our heavy hearts remember our friend and trailblazing founder, we reflect on Edith’s contributions to our profession and our union each and every day.
Lauterbach was hired by United Airlines in 1944, when flight attendants were still referred to as “sky girls” and “coeds.” But she quickly began questioning flight attendant safety, wages and working conditions. Says AFA-CWA:
By 1945, after joining forces with four flight attendant colleagues, the first union organized, run and controlled by women was founded. And for nearly seven decades, her role and involvement in our union has been invaluable to hundreds of flight attendant leaders and an inspiration to countless activists….Her devotion to collective bargaining rights resulted in improving the lives of flight attendants through AFA-negotiated contracts.
In 1952, she assisted in the creation of federal regulations for flight attendant safety and evacuations that helped establish an evacuation process that serves as a basis today. Lauterbach was instrumental in the airlines dropping a then-mandatory retirement age of 32. She flew with United for more than 40 years, and as the Los Angeles Times points out in an obituary:
Over the decades, airlines dropped employment restrictions based on age, marital status and, except in rare circumstances, weight. The word "stewardess" eventually gave way to the gender-neutral "flight attendant" and men joined their ranks.
“The evolution of the Flight Attendant profession and the legacy of Edith Lauterbach go hand in hand,” says the AFA-CWA.
We pay tribute to our friend whose fearlessness and devotion to advancing rights at work, paved the way for thousands of flight attendants and will continue to be a shining beacon for many to come.