The Long, Sordid Story That Led to American’s Flight Attendant President’s Resignation

American, Labor Relations

It has been quite a tumultuous couple of weeks for American’s flight attendants. After mounting pressure, Laura Glading, the President of American’s flight attendant union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) submitted her resignation effective December 2. That apparently wasn’t enough for those trying to mount a recall, and Laura ultimately agreed to step down last Friday. The list of grievances is long and in many cases, unjustified. But what matters now is how removing Laura is going to help the flight attendants. It’s not. This is an interesting look at the life cycle of union leadership. And to understand it, we need to go back a few years. Strap in for a long post…

Laura Glading Resigns APFA

In the throes of bankruptcy in late 2012, American’s management team was doing what every management team does; trying to cut costs. Flight attendants, of course, were not exempt. As is usually the case in bankruptcy, the flight attendants had two options in front of them. One was to accept what became known as the LBFO, American’s last, best, and final offer. If they said no, then it would be up to the courts to decide what would happen through the Section 1113 process. In that process, the flight attendants would have been subjected to something worse than what they were offered.

This may seem like a straightforward choice, but in fact there was another piece of the puzzle here. Earlier in 2012, Laura along with American pilot leadership met with the management team from US Airways. There, they came to an agreement called the Conditional Labor Agreement (CLA). The CLA effectively set the terms for a deal if the US Airways team was successful in engineering a merger between American and US Airways. The CLA would be an interim contract until a true joint contract could be negotiated after the merger. It also indicated that the joint contract would be “market-based in the aggregate” (based on the value of competitor contracts), and if an agreement couldn’t be reached, it would go to binding interest arbitration.

So it was in 2012 that the flight attendants were given a choice. Vote for the LBFO with the assumption that APFA would push as hard as possible for the merger so that the CLA, which was a better deal, would go into effect, or take their chances in the bankruptcy process. Of course, if the merger failed, the flight attendants would still have to work under the LBFO until its amendable date in 2017. The LBFO was approved handily.

When the merger was completed in December of 2013, the CLA was set to govern how things went until a joint contract was reached. A Negotiations Protocol Agreement (NPA) was reached as well. That agreement was just a road map for how the negotiations would be carried out.

The US Airways flight attendants approved all of this explicitly, but the American flight attendants did not. The CLA had to be negotiated quickly during bankruptcy and the APFA Board had come to the conclusion that a merger with US Airways would be in the best interest of the flight attendants. Besides, with the CLA having been out there before the LBFO was voted on, there was a belief that the American flight attendants were technically voting for the CLA, even though it was an indirect vote. A later legal review of the situation by APFA agreed that this was proper, but it angered some flight attendants. And really, had they been able to vote on this, then they wouldn’t have any leg to stand on with their complaints. (Looking back, I bet APFA wishes they had found some way to make a vote possible.)

The Joint Contract
Negotiations went as expected, an agreement was reached, and it was sent out to the membership for ratification. APFA leadership explained this was going to be the best they’d get, so vote yes or go to arbitration where the option was to simply make less money without seeing any work rule benefit. But there were some things that the flight attendants really didn’t like.

As part of this deal, profit sharing was eliminated in favor of higher wages. American management has a strong belief that profit sharing is only for companies that can’t afford to pay a better wage. With the industry more stable, it wanted to bake in higher fixed compensation. That would work at a time when record profits weren’t being recorded, but other airlines were paying out a ton in profit-sharing. Some flight attendants wanted it all, but the company wasn’t willing to give it. The “no” voters quietly picked up some steam, and then, good intentions went wrong.

One of the rallying cries for those opposed to the joint contract was around something known as “Hard 40.” American flight attendants used to have the ability to drop to 0 hours in a single month without any sort of penalty (benefits, etc). In the original tentative agreement, that went away and there was a 40 hour monthly minimum. Seeing the mounting anger at this, Laura was able to get management to drop that requirement and go back to the ability to drop to 0 hours in a month.

The “No” Vote
You’d think this would be a good thing, but instead it was the “proof” the angry minority needed that Laura hadn’t pushed hard enough in the first place. She had also lied, according to them, in saying that no further changes were possible. Despite the fact that it was a clear win for the flight attendants, it did not go down well. In the end the tentative agreement lost by 16 votes.

Any rational flight attendant would have voted yes on the tentative agreement. After all, a “no” vote was going to result in less money and no additional benefits. But this wasn’t about being rational. This was, for some, a protest vote by flight attendants who thought they had been sold down the river. For others, they simply fell victim to misinformation and probably would have voted differently otherwise. Some legacy American flight attendants were angry they hadn’t voted explicitly on the CLA, despite it being out there during the LBFO vote years before. They were out for blood even though a “no” vote only hurt themselves.

With the tentative agreement toast, the flight attendants expected some heroic effort by Laura to get more for the members in arbitration, but that was a complete misunderstanding of the process. The arbitration process came and went quickly, with the flight attendants gaining nothing. They didn’t try to gain much because it wasn’t something the process allowed. In the end, American management agreed to reinstate the original proposed compensation and then even added 4 percent, but the additional carrot to eliminate “Hard 40”? That was lost.

This agreement is a five year deal that will be in effect until 2019, though it can open a year early for negotiations if they so choose. As with most agreements, there’s always something each side leaves on the table. But there’s never been an agreement with both sides walking away completely happy. It’s a situation that requires compromise, and hindsight always shows opportunities that were lost. That’s why these contracts don’t last forever. In 2018, the flight attendants can begin again, trying to build on top of the gains they’ve already made.

Laura’s Downfall
During her time as President, Laura made many solid gains for her membership. Yet as is often the case, there was a vocal minority acting as if Laura had killed their children. Since Laura had achieved these gains by working closely with US Airways management (they both needed each other to make this happen), she had committed a cardinal sin of union leadership. She didn’t act like management was the enemy and actually worked with them to get a deal. That’s the right way to get things done, but there’s always a faction of the union that hates that plan.

The attacks quickly became personal. Some saw Laura and CEO Doug Parker as best friends. Then there were the conspiracy theories about how Laura’s cousin, US Airways Treasurer Tom Weir, had collaborated with her to screw the flight attendants and line their own pockets. I have no doubt you’ll hear more of these stories in the comment section.

Any time union leadership is portrayed as being in bed with management, the pendulum starts to swing the other way. The strongest dissenters use the rising tide to kick out the existing leader and they bring in someone more militant, someone who promises to whip management into submission and get the membership everything they deserve. Those leaders rarely end up getting anything. At some point, membership gets fed up and brings in someone who takes a more conciliatory tone. A deal gets done, and then the whole horrible cycle starts anew.

With mounting calls for Laura’s head, it was clear where this was going. It was just surprising how quickly she had to leave.

Her term was to expire early next year and she had already said she wouldn’t run again, but that wasn’t enough for the most militant members of the union. Some of the Board members who were most opposed to Laura concocted a plan to send out a recall ballot. As Laura explained in her resignation letter, this was a tool that was supposed to be used for serious issues, not for political purposes. But these people pressed forward. In response, some flight attendants said they would file charges against those Board members if they decided to move forward. It was going to be a long and expensive fight that would distract the union from doing anything productive. With that, Laura did the honorable thing and announced she would step down. Even the original date of December 2 wasn’t enough to calm the crowd, so she moved it up and walked away last Friday. This undoubtedly saved the union from wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars, but… now what?

What’s Next
Regardless of whether Laura was there until the end or not, the time for electing a new president is fast approaching. Undoubtedly, the group that led to her walking away will put up a fire-and-brimstone candidate. Yet the contract is still not amendable until 2018. Oh sure, there are all kinds of pie-in-the-sky discussions from that wing of the union about going to court to have the current agreement nullified. I’d be shocked if that happened, but even if it does, then what? The flight attendants go back to working under a worse contract and re-enter long, protracted negotiations that probably won’t result in a deal anytime soon. That would be quite the Pyrrhic victory were it to occur, no matter how unlikely. In reality, the only changes we’re likely to see before 2018 are going to improve the contract. If United and Continental flight attendants ever get their act together and agree to a joint contract, then the provisions in the APFA contract provide an adjustment to bring American flight attendants up.

We could also see a fight for the union itself. There have been plenty of efforts in the past to get American’s flight attendants to walk away from their own union and instead join the AFA which represents flight attendants at several airlines. And the TWU is always lurking, looking for opportunity. Maybe throw the IAM in there as well just for kicks. Grab the popcorn and get ready for drama.

In the end, despite all the threats of lawsuits, the contract isn’t changing before 2018. At that point, assuming there’s a militant leader running the show, negotiations will begin and likely not end unless someone more moderate comes into power. This game is all about compromise. Laura did it well, and she was able to get the flight attendants a great deal during her tenure. But as with many in her position, she’s reached the end of her time prematurely. For the sake of all the flight attendants, I hope they find someone who is a rational thinker, but I’m not optimistic that’s going to happen in the near term.

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61 comments on “The Long, Sordid Story That Led to American’s Flight Attendant President’s Resignation

  1. “I have no doubt you’ll hear more of these stories in the comment section.” ROTFLOL!

    Perhaps US/AA will finally get labor peace for the pilots and then the FA’s take up the AW/US Pilots mantle of crazy labor issues?

    (Why don’t we ever see these issues at UA or WN? (I know they don’t happen at DL since they’re mostly non-union.)

    1. WN has its share of labor challenges these days, but don’t forget, they didn’t force as many concessions in the tough years and employees haven’t dealt with multiple companies / management teams constantly asking them to sacrifice while taking huge paychecks and golden parachutes. Less bad blood means more win-win negotiations vs. punishment and vengeance

  2. You forgot to mention that up tp 2000 voluntary early out retirements were included in the LBFO vote with a stipend of $40,000.00 each. Handy, eh?

    1. That was offered to the non unionized agents too and they didn’t have to sell their first born to get it.

  3. Great article. I never understood why FAs would vote no, when that meant they would receive less money with an arbitrated deal. “Pride” or “standing up for what’s right” was always mentioned. Well, I can eat or pay bills with either of those.

  4. She did so well at leading a Union that Doug Parker CEO of American Airlines was invited to speak at the APFA Board Of Directors Meeting and go on the record stating that Laura Glading was the best union leader that he has ever worked with.
    As a true Unionist, that is NOT a compliment. She is an embarrassment to all unionists.

    1. This attitude is the reason that US unions are so messed up. The cannot get that the company has to do well for them to do well.

  5. I love how you feel the NO voters were so wrong. A union is supposed to fight for it’s membership, not hand it over on a silver platter to management. Glading thought she was above it all and went so far as to go behind even her BOD in cutting deals. There is much more to this story than you are choosing to report. In my 30 years with the company, I have never seen the arrogance and disrespect shown by her to her membership. Proud to have voted no and to see her gone.

    1. Any no voter who is “proud” to have voted no should be forced to work under the arbitrated contract. We’ll see how proud you are then.

      1. I have voted no on things for longer than I care to remember and I did not vote for Glading either time she ran. As far as I am concerned, I am working under an imposed “agreement”, there was no arbitration…she was “devastated” and rolled over. Leadership at it’s finest!

        1. Teri,
          I think it is pretty clear that you have unrealistic demands of your employer. Your position is easily filled with individuals taking a 4-8 week training program. Both you and AA would be better off if you left.

      2. We are being forced to work under the arbitrated contract- both “yes” and “no” voters. And our insurance just increased on average 8% this year, which eats up the convenient 4% raise that DP gave us last year to try to appease the flight attendants.

    2. @ Teri – A union is supposed to fight for its membership, but how many unions get anywhere by demanding and toeing the line on outlandish compensation requirements? Sometimes you just have to read the writing on the wall and take the best you can get even if its not everything you’ve asked for. Its called negotiation for a reason, a give and take on both sides. A union – management relationship doesn’t always have to be so negative. With that said there are many management teams that treat employees poorly. When management teams take care of the employees the employees usually take care of customers. There needs to be a balance and a return to an honest days wage for an honest days work. Overall it seems like the FAs should have taken the better deal rather than vote it down and then complain about it.

      1. @Hard Work Considering all the give backs it have been asked to make over the past 10 years, it was time for a change. My union has not represented me or my best interest for some time now, but it’s leadership has done quite well for itself. The whole sad story has not been told in full, rather one side that paints our now ex-president as a hero of labor. That is not an adjective I would ever entertain using. After almost 30 years at this job, I would like to think I have a handle on what is best for me, and it was not Laura Glading as our president. Looking forward to new leadership that will put it’s members first, not their careers post APFA.

  6. Beware, Brett. Once that vocal minority hears about this post, they are going to do all they can to poo-poo it here in the comments section. Pay them no mind. Thank you for being brave and speaking the truth.

    – a greatful AA FA who will miss Laura’s leadership

    1. Vocal minorities? Laura Glading admitted that she was going to be recalled! You don’t get recalled because of a vocal few.
      Keep spinning! :)
      she’s gone so let’s unite and move forward.
      In solidarity

      1. This whole article comes from the LG perspective. LG mislead the membership to fast track this merger and this fast track was in the form of threats and bullying on social media and robo calls. LG cut deals before the ember ship had a chance to chime in about how they chose in the Merger. LG’s behavior at these Road shows was dismissive at best. If the question was posed that was not inline with the agenda, LG would interrupt and cut the member off and dismiss a dues paying member. Essentially the take away was ” its my way or the highway, and do t ask any question” this article is biased and will not invest in anymore of it misinformation.

  7. It is obvious that this article is biased and full of conjecture.
    The truth of the matter is Laura Glading alone gave away profit sharing to Doug Parker and that was NOT voted on. The CLA was not voted on by the membership.
    There is no proof that the flight attendants would have worked under the Term Sheet in Bankruptcy. The pilots rejected their LBO and they didn’t work under a “term sheet” .
    Crankyflier, next time when you cover a story? How about covering both sides?
    Thank you
    Bye Laura!!! :)

  8. Complete bastardization of what occurred. I understand the rationality of working with management; but the obvious manipulation tactics employed by the company and Laura, eg VP Scott Kirby’s admitted bribe in dropping the Hard 40 to ensure contract ratification, are unethical and demonstrate their character. Laura may have had good intentions but managements only intention was to secure the lowest labor costs of the major 3. She had no chance against this management team.

    They all need to go. New union, new president.

  9. The truth of the matter is NO union work group on AA property is receiving profit sharing. The blame for the flight attendants not receiving it does not fall on Laura Glading and the APFA, it falls on the company for not giving it to any work force. Laura Glading navigated the bankruptcy and achieved an industry leading contract in record time.

        1. CF, I am correct and you just confirmed that gate agents currently have profit sharing.
          John stated that no Union work group on AA property is receiving profit sharing.
          You and I have both corrected him. Thank you. :)
          By the way, the agents’ TA still has to be ratified by the membership.
          Have a good evening.

          1. The fact that you think you are so high and mighty right now is somewhat disappointing. Just because you believe in something, doesn’t mean it is right. People are entitled to their opinion, but the rage you are expressing is certainly not pleasant. Cranky wrote an informative article and he warned about them comments. I am guessing this is one of the reasons he had to think of a warning. Great article Cranky! Don’t listen to the haters.

  10. Having once worked in a union shop for seven years…and having gone on strike for a couple of months over a new labor deal…I do have an appreciation for many of the things unions bring to the table.

    Not in this case. Politics inside unions has always struck me as petty and self-defeating.

  11. what a bunch of crap this article is. A few unhappy flight attendants??? Try thousands!!! She new she was caught in numerous bad choices that a measily small raise couldn’t bail her out. Since our give back in 2003 we have gotten nothing back from American while they have literally raped their employees of decent pay and work rules. Longer days on duty, more days per month. No overtime. The list is long and all along management and APFA union leaders reaped thousands $$ of stock in exchange for workers giving up profit sharing(which we strongly voted no)
    And are still making millions/billions in 2014/2015. We would have never given up profit sharing in a record profit year. We waited decades, worked hard for it and it was stolen from us. Laura Gladding never did anything without personal gain attached to it. Including taking a job with AA corp after resigning in disgrace. She will go down in history as the worst most distrusted APFA president ever. We are taking back our union and like our strike of 1993, we will bring about change. It’s our turn.

    1. What job did she take with AA corportate? What other work force on property got profit sharing? And it is a false statement that she or any APFA leaders reaped thousands in exchange for giving up profit sharing. Shading the truth does not rewrite the truth

      1. I have never worked in the airline industry but in most industries the union local president comes from the rank and file (since this union is not a multiple-employer union I would think it would work like a union local in the UAW or the Teamsters). Wouldn’t Laura go back to whatever job she had before starting her tenure with the union now that she is no longer union president (in most industries that is what happens)?

        1. mharris127 – She was a flight attendant, so in theory she could just go back to flying the line. Something tells me she wouldn’t want to do that, but I guess we’ll find out. I haven’t seen anything saying one way or another.

          I’m not going to really comment on the rest of JT’s post because of all the inaccuracies, but I will say this. I think we can safely say that nobody was “literally” raped in this process.

    2. JT,
      “Literally raped their employees”?
      To be clear, this is a non skilled position, filled by applicants who are successful in completing a 4-8 week training program. No college degree required. Second language skills are helpful but not required. What is the value add flight attendants bring to their employer? Do you sell tickets, generate revenue (excluding meal and beverage sales)? Are you a technical expert that can repair or fly an aircraft? No, it is about keeping customers happy, but when you spew off on these issues on this site, I can only wonder how you handle customers on your flights.

    3. 2003 company took $340 million annually, result ($15,000 loss per FA) , 2011 the Firm took another $5,000 per FA , total loss since 2003 $20,000 per FA. 2014 firm only offered half of what was taken, we are not back to the level of 2001 contract. Do the Math. Then mAAybe you will see how LG did not represent the membership.

  12. This bloggers attempt at conveying recent events at AA leaves much to be desired. This story is highly inaccurate. He is obviously a friend to Ms. Glading and can spend his time writing about her phoenix-like rebirth wherever she winds up. She definitely crashed and burned at AA. She will be missed by 100 nomske that maybe 98 flight attendants.

    1. ASTRA 2 – I normally don’t bother responding to ad hominem attacks, but in this case… I think I’ve met Laura once at a company leadership conference. I’ve never spoken to her outside of that brief introduction and I didn’t speak to her at all for this story.

      Now, if you’d like to debate any of the points I made with factual statements, go for it.

  13. Thank you, Cranky! From someone who was there every step of the way, you are spot on. The only thing you left out is that while Laura could propose strategy and game plans – the BOD is the governing body. Only they can vote to put those plans into action. It’s worth noting that the BOD supported her with UNANIMOUS votes throughout the entire process. From the LBFO, to the CLA, to the merger strategy, to the NPA, everything – right down to sending the TA out to the membership for a vote. She had their full support every step of the way. Even the hypocrites who threatened her removal from office and who ultimately forced her early resignation voted repeatedly in support her strategy. Why aren’t they resigning? We’re extremely lucky that the current leadership can’t mess with this incredible contract Laura negotiated for us at least until 2018 or later and Laura is lucky to be out of here and rid of their nonsense. As you so eloquently illustrate, history will treat Laura Glading very well.

    1. It’s not a CONTRACT till Implementation of PBS. Technically it’s an agreement with absolutely no protection. Everything is “As practicable or TBD”. CS bullying NH’s and flying them to death. Inferior hotel/ motels infested with bed bugs , r u tripping. CS pushing FAs to waive legalities Wow…DP is not sticking to implementation dates and trying to move them up. USAir FAs having to endure this archaic PBS software. The list goes on.

    2. With every “negotiation” the contracts lose important protections. How can you call it negotiations when the terms were determined before hand with binding arbitration as a backup for the company.

  14. I’m sure Ms. Glading will happily spend more time with her family, and less worrying about greedy constituents.

    1. We are not constituents. We are the empowered membership. We demanded her recall and she stepped down to keep her dirty secrets in the closet.
      If she was this great leader that Doug Parker says she was then the membership wouldn’t have forced her out.

  15. I’ll be more sympathetic to the FA’s when they stop purposefully refusing flights and screwing over hundreds of our paying passengers in the process because they think it makes AA management look bad.

  16. We are taking our union back!!!!!
    We forced out the biggest obstacle and we will once again be a strong union.
    Woohoo!!!!!!!!! :)

    1. I think it’s hillarious that some of the commenters here are taking “A. Marie” seriously. From her(?, sorry if misgendering) comments, she’s obviously a troll with no experience of or in the airline industry or labor relations.

      (P.S.: Woohoo!!!!!!!! :)

        1. Well, Teri, to be honest I’d rather have A. Marie be a troll. The only other option is that she actually is an AA FA; one who’s letting her unprofessional and incompetent flag fly.

          (P.S.: Whoohooo!!!!! :)

      1. Well, Darkwater, it shows how much you really don’t know.
        Just my name alone speaks volumes.
        Have a good evening :)

  17. The strongest dissenters use the rising tide to kick out the existing leader and they bring in someone more militant, someone who promises to whip management into submission and get the membership everything they deserve. Those leaders rarely end up getting anything.

    While I can’t speak to the in’s and out’s of this particular union spat, this argument is silly, and indicates someone who has never actually been in a union. Being stridently anti-management or militantoften times gets the goods, but for that to happen, there has to be significant ground roots support and choosing when to go for maximum leverage. Many unions have struck or threatened to strike and have gotten their demands met (look at the recent Seattle teacher strike or anytime the longshoreman go on strike).

    The problem for FA’s is that, unlike pilots or nurses, they are not in a licensed profession. Which is not to demean their efforts or work, but simply that when a strike comes, replacement workers are far easier to hire than say trying to find hundreds of qualified pilots. That’s not a position to extract maximum leverage.

  18. D2 was down grated to D2R last yr for employees taking the pass out TWA 5 yrs ago. Does not seem legal.
    . We signed papers to severe our employment in return for D2
    Passes. We are not retired. We were severed from Company
    By choice to receive D2 passes for 10 yrs. we would not have agreed to the pass out with this reneging on this agreement.

    Please give us our D2 passes as promised for the duration of our 10 yr promise.

    Why were we sold out ? Glad to see the Pres. Ousted.

  19. Good article Brett. And from the comments, I am glad to never have been in a union, bunch of angry, shortsighted vindictive people .

    1. I am sure you are glad you get paid less, don’t have a defined benefit pension plan, and have increased healthcare costs. But what do I know! I’m just a silly union member.

      1. I get paid based on my merit and performance. Quite well actually. My company pays for all my medical and dental, and it is an amazing plan. I have to perform personally, not as part of a group. Quite refreshing actually, the real world is like that.

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