US airline labour flexes its muscles

Washington DC
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Heartened by the presidential victory of Democrat Barack Obama, US airline labour is flexing its muscle as it prepares to recoup its concessions of recent years. At American Airlines, flight attendants have threatened to strike when they are legally allowed, and the airline’s pilots have pressed repeatedly for a federal declaration that their negotiations are at an impasse. And labour at normally placid Southwest Airlines has begun picketing.
William Swelbar of the MIT airline programme says: “Never before have we seen such a convergence of ‘amendable’ dates. Because so many of the present contracts were negotiated during bankruptcy, we have many contracts coming up in a close period.” This means that unions would be able to leverage their negotiations on progress at other carriers.

 

At American, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants marked the fifteenth anniversary of its five-day strike against the carrier by noting it was ready to strike again, when it legally could, to regain its 2003 concessions. The Allied Pilots Association representing pilots at the carrier, claiming that negotiations are stalled, says it is time to make up for their 2003 givebacks. American responds only that airline negotiations are normally lengthy and it hopes for an equitable settlement.
Meanwhile at normally content Southwest, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association joined the Transport Workers Union Local 555 in picketing over the pace of negotiations. Chairman Carl Kuwitzky added that the carrier’s recently signed codeshare with Mexican carrier Volaris was a “problematic...codeshare [that] has the potential to severely affect the career of all pilots on our seniority list”. 
At another relatively prosperous carrier, JetBlue, moves have begun to unionise the carrier’s 2,200 pilots after the JetBlue Pilots Association filed a petition with the National Mediation Board - although it adds they “have complete faith in our current company leadership”.
FTN Midwest Securities analyst Michael Derchin sees Obama as likely to appoint a pro-labour member to the National Mediation Board, which governs airline labour. This would mean that “current negotiations are likely to move more quickly”, he says. 
And at long-troubled United Airlines, a federal judge has ordered ALPA member pilots to end a slow-down or sickout, while the union continues its demand that the carrier’s top managers resign. The union denies that it encouraged any job actions by its members.

Read the Left Field blog for more on what Obama's election win could mean for air travel.