Air Travel News
Pilots revive labor turmoil at American
For a while there, it looked like bankrupt American Airlines was finally making some real headway in the longstanding deadlock with its key labor unions over new contracts. American's pilot leadership, followed by those of unions for flight attendants and mechanics, had finally agreed to new contracts that the airline said were its last, best offers. But the pilot union's rank-and-file membership has now rejected their deal, a vote that cost the union chief his position and could mean big trouble for the airline.
This might not matter so much in a less turbulent time for the company, but before the recent tentative agreements with labor groups, American had asked its bankruptcy judge for permission to throw out all its union agreements and impose its own terms on workers without any collective bargaining. Needless to say, that was not a prospect that appealed to the pilots' union -- nor to flight attendants or mechanics, who had also recently revived talks with management.
As if the prospect of trying to work with unions under unilaterally imposed pay and work rules weren't bad enough, those same three unions have already forged tentative agreements with US Airways, to come into play in the event that company is successful in its efforts to merge with American.
Some 61 percent of American's pilots voted against the latest tentative agreement with management, even though their leaders had endorsed it. After the vote, pilots' union chief David Bates resigned his position, reportedly at the request of the union's board.
American's mechanics voted to approve a new deal with management, but it barely squeaked by with an approval rate of just over 50 percent. Flight attendants are still voting on their tentative agreement.
The bankruptcy judge overseeing AMR Corp.'s reorganization had told both parties months ago that he would prefer for them to work out their differences rather than rely on the court to settle things between them. Still, in the absence of any such agreement with pilots, American is expected to get an answer from the judge by mid-August about whether it can toss out its existing union agreements.
If the judge agrees and management takes that step, it's anyone's guess how the angry pilots might react. The agreement they rejected would have given the pilots a pay raise and a 13 percent stake in the company. Terms imposed by management are unlikely to be so generous. Stay tuned.