After an outpouring of messages, comments, and material evidence it is clear that American Airlines employee unions are failing their membership and it’s everyone that pays the price.
American Airlines Flight Attendants Remain Furious
Last week flight attendants flooded the comments and my email address with their thoughts. That’s fine by me. I am happy to understand their view of the situation because my view as a customer is incomplete at best.
Flight attendants remain furious and many have pointed to allegations of collusion between flight attendant union leadership both before the “merger” and following. Former APFA representative, Laura Glading, was voted out of her position then worked for American Airlines leadership as a paid consultant.
It’s Not Just Flight Attendants
Mechanics still don’t have a contract, their negotiations started December of 2015 – that’s a very long negotiation period. So long, in fact, that the negotiation may have lasted longer than some presidencies without a conclusion.
Contract employees (apparently the airline is capable of issuing contracts when they choose) aren’t happy either, but for different reasons than that of the flight attendants and mechanics. According to feedback, they feel highly scrutinized by KPIs and management while being held powerless to positively affect the customer experience. Some reservation agents echoed the lack of ability to assist customers due to restrictions in official capabilities but also from changes in managerial support.
Yes, Management Is To Blame But Also The Unions
Of those flight attendants that reached out, they almost uniformly fault union entanglements with management as one of the causes of their plight, though few mentioned making changes to or abandoning the union altogether. The Mechanics Union can point to onerous terms from the senior leadership, but after nearly three years of negotiation without any traction, they have to fault their union reps too.
Let me explain.
The proposition of an employee union has a benefit to both the employer and to the union membership. To the company, a union provides consistent labor supply with costs that can be managed and predicted. To the membership, the union ensures security in the workplace and an advocate for work conditions. The union can strike if they are not making progress on an employment contract, union membership can vote out their representatives and the company can also enact their own labor protocols to discourage worker action.
In the case of the mechanics, their delegates have not clearly demonstrated that if terms are not met, there will be consequences. If senior American Airlines management felt the threat of sickouts, worker slow down or a strike were legitimate it would seem logical that progress would be moving along faster than it is now.
In the case of the flight attendants, voting out leadership may be the answer. Flight attendants face a backlog of applicants to take their job that’s tens of thousands of résumés long. American Airlines could, in theory, completely replace their flight attendant staff with new applicants.
They shouldn’t do that. They won’t do that. And the logistical problems, customer service deterioration, and public backlash would be never-ending.
But both groups need to vote out their own union leadership if they are not performing. American clearly doesn’t respect the unions and some could venture to say, their employees, but that also reflects that they don’t fear them either. Both work groups hold some of this power in their own hands. Employees could choose to abandon their unions which reduces American’s power to strike sweetheart deals with union insiders. Frankly, I am not sure that they have anything to lose by showing their unions the door.
Gary Leff of View From The Wing didn’t go so far as to suggest that American Airlines (and United) would be better off without a union but highlighted that Delta FAs are better compensated without collective bargaining.
Delta Are Non-Unionized and Make More Money
Delta does not have a flight attendant union, a fact that few may have noticed until the last week where Delta brought this to the forefront with some ill-conceived marketing. Regardless, their FAs make more money than their union compatriots (especially than American) and it’s not close.
Those employees also do not pay union dues which only helps them further edge out their union peers at American and United. While $700 may not seem like much to others, to American employees who drop their union (dues) it would amount to a 56% increase over their current annual bonus.
While I believe it is preposterous to suggest that employees shouldn’t join a union so that they can use the money to buy video game consoles (even though some make great IFEs), they also have a point. If Delta employees are already making 14% of their annual earnings in bonuses, and that’s 10x of their unionized peers at American- what is the incentive to join a union? What’s the incentive to stay in one?
Unions are installed to protect employees yet Delta FAs didn’t have any trouble protecting themselves. They feel the same power to control their outcome that other non-union employees feel. Some commenters have stated that unhappy American flight attendants should simply leave their job. Maybe some should. That’s a personal decision for each FA to make for themselves, but the strength that unions used to deliver to their membership is now filled by an empowered workforce and more robust workplace laws.
Delta has to treat its employees well or they will lose them. That has led to profit sharing (American employees don’t need to worry about profit sharing from flying operations of course), higher wages, paid volunteer days, empowered workers and happier employees.
Perhaps it’s time for American’s work groups to demand change from their unions as loudly as they demand change from management, vote representatives out or dissolve the unions altogether. The status quo from both management and union leadership isn’t working to enhance the work conditions for American’s frontline employees. That much is clear. When flight attendants (mechanics and other groups) refuse to accept these results from their company and their unions then perhaps real change will occur.
What do you think? Is this a one-sided issue with the C-suite at American solely to blame? Should union members vote out their representatives? Dissolve the unions? Is there something else that would work?
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