American’s Apparent Labor Peace with Rampers Appears to be a Sham

It’s been nearly two months since I last wrote about American here. Maybe it’s that American Airlines Labor Painsthey haven’t had much news or maybe it’s just that they don’t really reach out to bloggers very often. Either way, I thought it would be good to check in on them. One of the biggest issues they’ve had lately is the threat of labor disruptions, but that appeared to ease recently when a few tentative agreements were put out. It now appears that at least one of those is a sham.

American had been riding high with labor after narrowly averting bankruptcy post-9/11. The airline was sharing more information with the unions and the relationships seemed to be in pretty good shape. Then, it all fell apart. The biggest sticking point was when senior management accepted large bonuses based on stock price appreciation while the front line suffered. This boneheaded move cemented what has now been a contentious relationship for a few years.

While the pilots and flight attendants seem to be heading toward a strike, the Transport Workers Union (TWU)-represented groups have been knocking out tentative agreements in rapid succession this month. First, it was the mechanics on May 5 (pdf), then the “Material Logistics Specialists” on May 7 (pdf). The Maintenance Control Technicians followed on May 8 (pdf). Then, on the 28th, the Fleet and Ground Service (aka rampers, cleaners) came to an agreement (pdf).

That’s some serious progress, though it remains to be seen if the union members will actually approve these contracts or not. When it comes to the rampers, it seems certain to go down to defeat. In a statement, the TWU’s Tim Gillespie said this:

It became clear during our meetings with the National Mediation Board that our union would not be granted release from mediation unless the members of the union are first permitted to vote on the company’s offer. Members will have to carefully look at the state of the economy, look at what they gave up in 2003 and think about what this contract delivers before voting in July.

Ah, I see. In order to strike in this wacky industry, the National Mediation Board (NMB) has to declare that both sides are at an impasse and then release them from negotiations. Then a 30 day cooling-off period begins. When that’s over, the union is allowed to strike, unless the President decides to get involved. So the goal of any union that can’t get what it thinks is fair is to get to that cooling-off period. That helps ratchet up the pressure on management.

It seems clear here that the union doesn’t approve of the offer, but the NMB basically told them that unless the membership was allowed to vote on it, they weren’t going to release them into the cooling-off period. So here we are. The lack of support is very clear here.

In short, every employee group at American wants to go back to where they were before they gave up major concessions in 2003. Unfortunately for them, they are already paid better than their counterparts at competitors so they’re unlikely to get even close to what they gave up. That won’t keep them from fighting. This tentative agreement appears to be simply another step in the march toward a strike as opposed to an actual resolution.

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