American Airlines takes a very different view of mediation than do its unions. When the last of its worker groups went to the National Mediation Board this week, it was with real anger. 'American is a bunch of no-goodnicks and they should all go away and be chicken-pluckers' was the basic message. Their language was slightly less blunt, but contained plenty of accusations of bad faith, etc. The airline has a slightly calmer view of things, and its senior veep for human resources, Jeff Brundage, was ready to take to the web to explain its position. The airline, he says, joined in the request for an outside third-party referee, he says, although "we recognize that mediation is no panacea. It doesn't guarantee an outcome better for either side than might have been achieved otherwise."
He says, "mediation impacts both sides: With a mediator on board, each side has less control over the process. The NMB decides the agenda and determines the timeline. That means that the schedule must take into account the availability of not two parties but three. Historically, mediated negotiations in the airline industry last an average of 15 months after the mediator comes on board. On the plus side, mediation promotes realism on the part of both sides. The mediator's role
is to promote good-faith negotiation by both parties and to encourage each to make proposals that bring them towards a resolution. It is a thorough process, and that's a good thing when you are talking about contracts that are important not only to the employees they cover but to the long-term health of the company."
But Jeff, an all-around good guy, was perhaps a bit optimistic when he concluded that "agreements made on a voluntary basis during mediation tend to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding." Would it were so, Jeff. We say this without blame or finger-pointing, but: The mediator may work in a place where the wells aren't poisoned, but, alas, the workers do.