...And Terrible Times For Contract Negotiations
If union airline
employees thought they'd eventually regain wages and benefits
conceded after 9/11's disruption of the industry, the sudden run-up
in fuel prices may have them either rethinking strategy, or
updating their resumes.
Reuters reports the six network airlines have watched their
stocks collectively lose 75 percent of their market value in the
past year as fuel costs have risen steeply and travel has slowed
because of the economy. Some experts say the financial pressure on
the companies is even worse than in the period following 9/11.
Gary Chaison, a labor expert at Clark University, follows the
transportation sector, and sees a parallel between airlines and US
manufacturing. "Most airline employees see the good days as over,
like the auto industry," he said
Union officials, airline industry consultants, analysts and
other industry experts agree that labor relations are
deteriorating. Restructurings and bankruptcies in the last five
years slashed the work force at the six big US airlines by a third,
and thousands of workers lost their pensions.
Which makes the current economic climate a bad time for unions
to renegotiate their labor contracts... but that's exactly the
scenario facing pilots at American Airlines and Southwest, among
others. Of those two, members of SWAPA are in an arguably better
position, as Southwest at least continues to be profitable.
As for pilots at
American Airlines, however, things appear bleak. ANN has covered the contentious
battle between airline management and leaders of the
Allied Pilots Association over the past year, as pilots have fought
to bring their pay back to inflation-adjusted levels not seen since
the early 1990s. With the airline recently announcing staggering
losses, however, and massive cutbacks in staffing and capacity...
few would bet on American's pilots getting even a fraction of
In related news, cutbacks at United are Wednesday's major
headline, but Delta recently enticed 3,000 non-union
employees to accept a buyout offer and leave their jobs
Patricia Friend, president of the union representing flight
attendants at United, US Airways and Northwest, is philosophical.
She says she won't accept more concessions, but admits she can't
stop industry economics.
"I need to be at the table to try and protect the interests of
my members," she said.