Unions Crashing American Airlines
by Mark Luedtke
Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard about. Customers all around the country are avoiding American Airlines. Wall Street Journal travel blogger Scott McCartney advises, “If you’re making travel plans for this fall, avoid American Airlines. American has become too unreliable. … American’s operation is in shambles. On Sunday, only 48 percent of American flights arrived on-time, and 25.6 percent were at least 45 minutes late, according to FlightStats.com, a flight-tracking service. American canceled 92 flights on Sunday, or 5 percent of its schedule.” American had the lowest on time arrival rate of all North American airlines in September.
Since September things have gotten slightly better for American, but not much. American officials predict the airline will be forced to cancel two percent of its flights throughout the month of October. Tulsa World reports that American’s business is taking a hit, “Flight operations at bankrupt American Airlines improved Monday, but a significant increase in flight delays and cancellations during the past three weeks is causing some travelers and travel agents to book flights with other airlines, industry officials said. … On future bookings, people are booking away from them if there is an option or other airline.”
American blames unions for the disruption. The Washington Times provides some background, “Last fall, when American was operating at a loss without any clear path forward, it was forced to do what every other major legacy airline already had done: file for bankruptcy. Delta and Northwest filed for bankruptcy in 2005, United in 2002 and US Airways twice – in 2002 and again in 2004.”
Labor costs were a primary cause of all these bankruptcies, and bankruptcy allows companies to renegotiate labor contracts with unions. American has renegotiated contracts with eight of nine unions it works with, and that along with optimizing routes has enabled American to quickly return to profitability. The only union they haven’t reached a new contract with is the Allied Pilots Association.
American offered a generous contract to the pilots, which included an equity stake in the company for each pilot worth $187,500. The head of the union recommended the pilots accept the offer, but they rejected it by a whopping 61 to 39 percent majority, then they fired the head of the union. In response, the bankruptcy judge invalidated the current contract between American and the Allied Pilots Association, taking significant leverage away from the union. Further, even though the union cannot legally strike, the pilots took a secret strike vote that is widely believed to have passed. Because of the loss of leverage, it’s unlikely American will offer another contract as lucrative as the last, so the union cost their workers money.
Pilots are upset, and they are punishing the company and its customers for their own mistake. For the last several weeks, American pilots have been calling in sick and filing a significant increase in maintenance reports, forcing delays and cancellations of flights. American is losing customers, maybe permanently, harming the company and doing further economic damage to workers. Reuters reports, “‘American has delayed close to 2 million people in the last couple of weeks, and they’ve canceled flights for 150,000 people,’ said Blake Fleetwood, president of CookTravel.net, an online travel agency.” This self-destructive behavior is why unions have nearly disappeared from the private sector.
But it gets worse. On three recent flights, a row of seats came loose during flight. First, a row of seats came loose on a flight from Dallas to Vail. The plane arrived in Vail and the seat was repaired, but the same plane had the same problem a few days later on a flight from New York to Miami, forcing the plane to return to New York. The same problem occurred a third time on a flight from Boston to Miami, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in New York. American was forced to cancel 94 flights as of this writing to fix seats.
Airline officials laughably blame faulty clamps and spilt soda and coffee for the seat problems, as if other airlines don’t use the same clamps, soda and coffee. CBS New York reports unions also deny sabotage, “The Transport Workers Union of America released the following statement: ‘The facts are TWU has ratified agreements with the airline in recent weeks for all its members. Problems related to seats are less likely a labor problem, but rather a management issue related to outsourcing work to third-party facilities.’”
The union is obviously miffed that American is using contract workers to cut maintenance costs. American is also laying off 1,400 workers, further angering them. NBC Miami reports, “[Airline official Michael] Waldron said that as many as 668 fleet service clerks and crew chiefs could lose their jobs at Miami International Airport, as well as 323 mechanics, 174 plant maintenance workers and 102 airport agents.”
You might wonder why a story of unions inconveniencing two million people and possibly endangering fliers over a contract dispute isn’t big news. It’s because President Obama is deeply in bed with unions, and as the recall election in reliably liberal Wisconsin proved, the American people are fed up with union thuggery. If this story went national, it would cost Obama votes. The national media has spent over four years burying stories that might politically harm Obama, and they aren’t about to change now with the election five weeks away.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@daytoncitypaper.com