During a period when labour disputes are an all too regular features of US airline life, American Airlines has introduced a new element to opening contract negotiations.

Management has promised the Allied Pilots Association (APA) top pay in return for a speeded-up process that would include arbitration.

American says it expected to pay a premium over both the United Airlines and Delta Air Lines deals with the Air Line Pilots Association. It offered salary increases of 15% to 22% starting immediately if its union accepted a 120-day timetable later this year followed by arbitration to settle other issues between the two parties, including pay raises beyond those in the first year.

The union agreed that bargaining should be faster, and, admitting that American's opener had surprised them, APA officials insisted that pay was not the only issue in this negotiation. Issues such as fatigue and crew rest would be at least as important as pay, APA president John Darrah said, but did not explicitly accept or reject American's concept.

However he insists that the American pilots want more than their Delta counterparts won if it is to achieve "an industry-leading" contract. "Simply mirroring the Delta contract would fall well short of this aim," said Darrah.

American's concept is modelled after a process used in bargaining between Major League baseball and professional team members: when negotiations do not succeed, arbitrators pick one or other final proposal outright rather than attempting to mesh elements from each into a compromise. It is a winner-take-all settlement. In this case the arbitrators' decision would be due by 30 June next year.

By accepting arbitration, though, the union loses the right to strike, Darrah noted. However, intervention promised by President George Bush has already put off other possible strikes including one mulled by the union representing American's flight attendants in July.

Source: Airline Business