Labour relations at American Airlines keep getting uglier. Last week, news emerged that the company’s 14-year old Aviation Safety Action Plan (ASAP) – which allows employees to report safety problems confidentially – has been terminated. In light of this, the Allied Pilots Association (APA) is warning membership: “You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent, everything you say can and WILL be used against you!”
Now the APA is accusing management of using outside PR firm Weber Shandwick to advise on the ASAP campaign. “How would you feel if e-mail exchanges between APA and AA in which APA was desperately seeking to come to an agreement [on ASAP] were CC’d to the PR firm?” asks the APA in an internal message.
I don’t know what role, if any, Weber Shandwick is playing in management’s correspondence with APA over ASAP. On somewhat of an aside, however, I will be the first to say that American’s relationship with the press improved mightily the day it decided to hire Weber Shandwick to assist its PR efforts. That was at least a few years ago.
American has responded to the ASAP termination with the following statement:
“The APA’s willingness to discard a 14-year program that has done so much for our pilots, our airline and our industry is impossible to understand. While we are disappointed by the APA ‘s action, we do not believe that the safety of American’s operations will not be affected by the program’s expiration. American will provide its pilots with a confidential hotline and online reporting system to report concerns directly to our safety department.”
But the ASAP argument is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s no secret that American and APA leadership have been embroiled in rather acrimonious contract negotiations. Proposals have been traded back and forth for months without success. One of the hot button issues is American’s request for scope relief. Management wants to lift the cap on the number of seats in aircraft flown by commuter affiliates. Scope language in American’s current pilot contract prohibits American Connection carriers from flying aircraft with more than 50 seats.
In an internal message to members, the APA reveals that management’s scope proposal “seeks to remove every limitation on domestic and international codesharing as well as permitting unfettered operation of commuter air carriers flying ERJ-170s in two-class configuration – without any AA pilot job guarantees”.
Needless to say, the APA will have none of it. But the revelation is pretty interesting. Wholly-owned subsidiary American Eagle is allowed to fly a limited number of 70-seat jets – 50 in total. The airline currently flies 25 Bombardier CRJ700s. And we’ve known for some time that options on a further 25 CRJ700s have never been firmed up (must to management’s chagrin).
Under management’s proposal, American “could theoretically operate without one pilot on the pilot seniority list, and management has admitted as much at the table”, says the APA.
“We can have the best contract in the industry, but it wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s written on without APA pilots in the cockpits.”