"How do we get to the point where we actually do something different rather than talking about challenges," asked American's SVP of Human Resources Jeff Brundage at the recent Phoenix Sky Harbor International Aviation Symposium.
Brundage and his team are in the midst of negotiations with all of American's labour groups, and two of the groups have asked to be released from mediation. But for now the discussions are pressing on as each side works to get a viable outcome from the talks.
But how do you negotiate in these times? Airlines and their respective labour groups have been trapped in a vicious cycle of negotiating contracts in relatively better times that eventually are wiped out through re-organisations either outside or inside Chapter 11.
Brundage posed an interesting question during the symposium. Is the current situation the industry finds itself in during the initial phases of a fragile recovery a true market reset or another typical stage of the tyical cycle?
And while unions are certainly fighting to regain concessions they agreed to early this decade, issues like anti-trust immunity and consolidation pose a new level of uncertainty to negotiations. "More often I have questions rather than answers," says Transport Workers Union international administrative vice president John Conley.
So is there an ultimate solution to this quandary of being stuck in negotiating contracts that are only vaporised when times get tough? Well Brundage believes it is going to take a structural change in the business to reverse the long-standing trend, perhaps through the way negotiations are governed in the USA.
A chronic problem with labour negotiations in the USA is they drag on for what seems like forever for both sides. One point made by ALPA president John Prater during the symposium is during the pre-deregulation era in the USA managment and labour were continuously negotiating different sections of a contract rather than tackiling all 30 or so sections at once, which can leave some negotiations languishing for years.
With the US National Mediation Board handling about 81 some odd cases in mediation, and with airline contracts representing north of 50 of those, saying that something has to give appears to be a gross understatement.