Different Directions For Unions At American Airlines

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I continue to read about developments each day in the continuing sage of union negotiations at multiple levels within American Airlines.  The last time I wrote about the unions, the pilots union was still negotiating and the flight attendants had just narrowly voted down a contract.

As usual, Terry Maxon has the scoop.  The pilot’s union and American Airlines have both agreed to keep negotiating in the wake of passing their second deadline.  Both sides agree they want to keep talking instead of moving to arbitration, even though management has the right to do so.  What’s interesting here is that management said that both sides needed to agree on the basic framework that management had already offered.  There’s no clear message that’s what happened to keep both sides at the table this week.

Conversely, the flight attendants are heading to arbitration, and management seems unlikely to waver from that course.

Parker answered a few questions that show a pretty firm stance.  In regards to whether American will continue to negotiate with flight attendants:

One of the things we’ve learned through this process is the trust between the employees and management isn’t to a point where I wish it was. I don’t think it’s mistrust so much as not working together long enough to have built trust, and it takes a lot to earn it. But the fact that we’re in this situation with the flight attendants to me again appears as though people just still aren’t in the position of trusting what they hear from management or even from their union.

When you’re in a situation like that, I think the only thing to do is to do exactly what you said you were going to do. We’re trying to build trust. We don’t do that unless we go follow up through exactly with what we said.

What was crystal clear in the case of the flight attendant contract was that it wasn’t voted in, we’ve got arbitration. That’s where we’re headed.

I think this is a little bit of an obtuse answer.  I’m not sure that they’ll build trust with unions by moving to arbitration.  Management is fully entitled to move towards arbitration, and that may even be the right path.  But, I think claiming you build trust by stopping negotiations when the other side might want to continue is a bit disingenuous.

The folks in the room asking questions still didn’t feel like they had a firm answer, (I think they did) so they asked the question a couple more times, albeit slightly differently:

Question: Can you negotiate with APFA during arbitration?

Parker: There’s nothing in the contract that precludes people from talking to each other. But again, the membership voted on the tentative agreement and said no, and the alternative that’s in our agreement was arbitration, so that’s where we’re going to go.

Question: Do you intend to negotiate?

Parker: We had a negotiated agreement that was endorsed by the entire APFA board and by the AFA [Association of Flight Attendants], and the membership rejected it. So we’re headed to arbitration.

I don’t know enough about both negotiations to hypothesize why one appears to be receiving a more contentious position from management, but that seems pretty clear from the latest developments.  It’s also important to note that neither negotiation appears to be negatively impacting operations.

Alternatively, where negotiations are, in a way, damaging things is with the regional jet arm, Envoy.  The division, which used to be named American Eagle, operates regional flights on behalf of American Airlines as a wholly-owned subsidiary.  Management has made the decision to move 50 planes out of Envoy to other regional carriers due to a predicted shortage of pilots.

This is something of a chicken and egg problem, in that management wanted the pilots to accept further concessions in order to park some larger planes there, thus increasing jobs.  Because they didn’t agree, they haven’t placed more planes or raised compensation.  When coupled with some of the pilots moving up to the parent company to fly mainline jets for American Airlines, they do appear to have a pretty significant shortage of pilots coming up.

It’s disappointing to see, in that American Eagle/Envoy have generally been a reliable operator as far as I could see, especially when compared to some of the competitors in this space.

The post Different Directions For Unions At American Airlines was published first on Pizza In Motion.

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  1. I think the difference is just that they haven’t made a threat in the case of the pilots yet; so even though they could move to arbitration, they don’t lose face or bargaining power by not doing so. OTOH, with the FAs, they made a clear threat that a vote of no meant arbitration. If they now backed off and went back to the table, what union member would ever believe such a threat again? And with votes coming up for pilots, maintenance and the regional carriers, it’s a threat they want to be able to make and have taken seriously in the very near future.

    1. I agree it’s a threat, and likely one they have to follow through on once they make it. But, saying it builds trust is a bit out there, IMO. 🙂

      1. I guess it builds ‘trust’ to the extent it shows they can be trusted to live up to their word? It’s a pretty rough way to build trust though.

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