Labor Peace Remains Just Out Of Reach For The New American Airlines

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Labor peace remains elusive at the new American Airlines, though relations between unions and management for appear to be as bad as they’ve been previously.

It wasn’t long ago that Doug Parker, then CEO of US Airways, was working out deals with union members of both airlines, promising generous pay raises. Agreements are signed, a merger consummated, and some believed there might be a period of harmony between labor and management.  I was skeptical.

The lines began fraying a while ago, and the gaps have been getting incrementally wider.

The pilots union and the airline continue to negotiate despite passing two deadlines for binding arbitration.  The fact that the two sides agreed to extend the deadline is definitely a sign things aren’t a DEFCON 1 just yet.  But, the pilots believe they deserve a much bigger raise than is being proposed.  They base this on the fact that Delta’s pilots are getting a smaller raise and revenue sharing, where American Airlines management does not want to offer revenue sharing to their pilots.

Previously, just about a week ago, the flight attendants narrowly voted down a new contract (less than one tenth of one percent). I don’t recall a vote quite that close. As Seth points out, there were likely enough bad items affecting different groups that it was a very close vote, with separate camps of nay voters holding sway.

The irony here is that it looks likely the flight attendants will ultimately end up with an inferior compensation package to the one they just voted down.

It seems that we’ll have to wait just a bit longer for that nirvana that was promised pre-merger.  Surely, things aren’t at their worst right now.  And, labor harmony at domestic US airlines isn’t exactly the rule, it’s more of the exception unless your Southwest Airlines (who, despite having historically few labor issues are even dealing with a bit of disagreement).

I do believe that the strain between the unions and management at United Airlines post-merger is a healthy part of the drop in service levels many have experienced.  I also believe that’s something American has avoided until now, even despite similar levels of acrimony between the management and labor unions at certain times.  I’m still hopeful that agreements will be made and service levels will stay high, but it would be a mistake to say the sky is free of clouds right now.

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