Talks between AMR Corp. and its pilot and flight attendant unions are faltering just days after the operator called for new contracts to be agreed “in a matter of weeks.”
Negotiations with the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which were once considered most likely to lead to a consensual agreement, are now awaiting a bankruptcy court ruling after APA argued the company has no right to impose new contract terms. Meanwhile, the newly re-elected president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) claims the carrier favors “union busting,” rather than seeking a new, mutually agreed contract.
The APA seeks to dismiss the U.S. Bankruptcy Code’s authority over AMR’s labor negotiations in favor of the Railway Labor Act, the law that normally governs such talks. According to the union, the federally mediated talks conducted since 2008 should take precedence over the bankruptcy procedure, which allows the company to request court intervention to impose new contract terms.
Under AMR’s current proposal to APA, the company will expand the use and breadth of contract flying to aircraft with up to 88 seats—a drastic change in what is considered the most limited scope clause among U.S. majors—and extend current code-sharing arrangements, changes some APA members believe will enable the airline to reduce mainline flying.
“The Railway Labor Act provides specialized procedures for peaceful resolution of labor contracts in the airline industry, and the conflict between the bankruptcy code and the Railway Labor Act’s requirements has not been thoroughly adjudicated,” says APA President David Bates.
AMR, however, contends that it wants to negotiate with its pilots to add to their roster. “American has made it clear from the outset that our goal is to reach consensual agreements with all of our unions, and our negotiating teams are working hard toward that goal. As for scope, our business plan calls for significant growth in AA flying over the next five years, which translates into more opportunity for our pilots,” says the airline in a statement.
“To support that network plan, we need to be able to source regional flying on a fully competitive basis with the other large U.S. carriers, which is why relief from the scope restrictions in the current pilot contract is so important. Change in scope is not part of the cost reductions we have asked of our pilots; it is on the revenue side of the equation,” it adds.
APFA President Laura Glading, meanwhile, is attacking AMR’s use of “union busting” consultants prior to its bankruptcy and the company’s decision to reject the union’s early retirement program in a statement, rather than personal correspondence. That AMR statement also noted, “We don’t have the luxury of time as we did in Section 6 negotiations [under the Railway Labor Act] and need resolution on these contractual changes immediately, not months from now.”
Pickets in protest of the company’s stance led by the APFA were held yesterday as AMR resumed talks with its unions. The Transport Workers Union, which represents the largest group of the airline’s employees, is hoping to convince the company to reconsider the closure of a maintenance facility, possibly with the help of local government incentives.