We all know how American’s flight attendant contract negotiations turned out. A slim majority of flight attendants actually decided they preferred a worse contract with less money. In the end, the company gave the full raise to the flight attendants anyway, but some of the contract improvements that had been negotiated were gone. Since then, the airline has given another 4 percent raise to all non-contract workgroups and those under a single contract… but not all workgroups are working under a single contract. The pilots are the next big group to go, and it’s decision time. If they’re smart, they won’t follow the flight attendants’ path.
This situation is very similar to what we saw with the flight attendants but with a few important differences. The general goal is the same: hammer out the final details via negotiation instead of by going to binding arbitration. The flight attendants narrowly voted to gamble on arbitration and lost. Now the pilots get their turn to make a choice.
As with the flight attendants, the pilots were offered more money than they will get in arbitration. We know this because the economic value is firmly set already. The pilots received a 3 percent raise on January 1 of this year. Then on January 1, 2016, they move to the average of the Delta and United contracts. That translates into a 13 percent raise which is followed by 3.5 percent raises in both January 2017 and January 2018.
With that background, the proposal from the company is extremely attractive, to say the least. American would give a 23 percent increase right off the bat. The 3 percent increase from January 2015 would also remain in effect. Then there would be another 3 percent increase each year through 2019.
So, uh, yeah. Seems like a pretty clear option here, so why hasn’t this been accepted yet? That’s a really good question. As we all know from the flight attendant negotiation, there isn’t going to be a better outcome if this goes to arbitration, but politics always gets involved.
The union, Allied Pilots Association (APA), has been negotiating to improve some things in the contract. So far American has given what it says are concessions worth about $20 million a year, but APA wants more than that. So after going back and forth, on December 23, American decided to submit for arbitration since it was clear the two sides wouldn’t agree. With arbitration set for the end of February, American dumped everything back into the pilots’ laps.
Now here’s where things get a bit different. While the flight attendants had to let their membership vote on the agreement, that’s not the case with the pilots. The incredibly large APA board (20+ members) could have simply voted to accept the improved agreement and been done with it. But the membership probably wouldn’t have been happy. Politics.
When the company laid things out on December 23, it made timelines clear. The pilots could accept this deal any time before arbitration begins. But per an agreement with APA, if the APA board accepted the deal by January 3 and (if needed) the rank and file voted it in by January 19, then the pay would be retroactive to December 2, 2014.
Seems clear what should have happened right? These raises are huge, so having an extra couple months of pay seems worthwhile since there is no way things are going to improve. But of course, that didn’t happen.
The board set a time to meet to discuss the offer and the end result was a decision to send it to the membership to vote. Apparently there was one outstanding issue involving pay on long layovers that, had the company agreed to, would have caused the board to accept the deal right there. But it was going to add $50 to $80 million to the contract and the company said no. With that, the board finally opted to send it to membership to vote.
That’s fine, but the vote didn’t begin right away. Now that it’s on, it’s going to go through January 30 so there’s enough time for all the pilots to have their say. So the APA went back to the company to say that they needed an extra 11 days on the deadline to allow for retroactive pay. American didn’t like that plan and on Friday night, ripped into the APA in an email to pilots and said the deadline wouldn’t change.
I can understand that response if the APA were still dragging its feet, but the decision to send to membership and vote has already been made. It’s not like it’s going to slip any further. So, really American? You couldn’t just extend 11 days? You know if I think the company was being too harsh then the pilots must have flipped out. But something strange happened. It didn’t take long, but somebody clearly realized this was a bad idea. On Sunday, the company sent another letter out saying that the deadline would in fact be extended to January 30.
Whew, good thing. Now the letter didn’t actually say that until you got through a couple paragraphs of anger directed at the union. I can’t say I liked the tone, but ultimately this is all just part of negotiations. The important thing here is that someone in management realized over the weekend that not granting the 11 day extension was stupid.
So now what? Well the pilots get until January 30 to vote. If they vote yes (as they absolutely should), then raises will go into effect backdated to December 2 and everyone will be on a single contract. If they vote no, well they’ll have done more financial damage to themselves than even the flight attendants could have imagined. I’m guessing that considering what happened to the flight attendants in arbitration (they got nothing they wanted), the pilots aren’t going to vote wrong here. But we’ll know for sure at the end of the month.
[Original pilot photo via Shutterstock]