Thursday, March 23, 2006

And So It Begins

The pilots at my airline are working under a contract that was signed in September 2001 and becomes amendable this coming September. Under the Railway Labor Act, which governs labor relations at unionized airlines, either party can request that an opening to contract negotiations six months before the amendable date. As expected, our management delivered that letter to the union this week.

The company decided to use the letter as an opening salvo in the PR war by posting it to the employee website. Not content to simply comply with the law by requesting negotiations, the letter attempts to frame negotiations in the company's favor. More or less, they're claiming that they gave away the shop with the last contract, plus everyone else's labor costs have decreased, therefore in keeping with their "compensation philosophy," pilot costs must decrease. This was backed up by graph after graph comparing our payrates to the likes of Mesa and Chautauqua.

A word to management: The airline is doing well. Do you really think we're going to bend our expectations to suit your "compensation philosophy" so the shareholders can pocket a few more cents per share while our first officers go on food stamps? Get freaking real. Our pilot group is dead set against any concessionary contract, and compared to five years ago our leadership is more experienced, our communications improved, and our unity impressive. You do not get to set the framework for these negotiations, clumsy propaganda attempts notwithstanding.

This is the first time I've written about our negotiations, and it will probably be the last time until we've signed the (non-concessionary!) contract. It's a subject that's typically kept fairly quiet from the public until the union decides to make their case. When they do, my union speaks for me. If management is reading this blog, they don't need to hear my take - once again, my union leadership speaks for me. Once the contract is signed - perhaps some time from now - I'll write freely about it.

For what it's worth, I recently began volunteering for our union's communications committee. I'm tired of seeing this profession dragged down into the mud. It's worth fighting for.


GC said...

When it comes to Section 6 negotiations, there's a couple of things to be careful of:

"Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it."


"Be careful you don't price yourselves out of existence."

My airline is going through the same thing starting in June. I'm hoping that we're looking more into work-rules changes that will increase productivity and therefore increase pay, rather than hard rate-of-pay increases.

Especially with the price of crude oil being so volatile, it's also important to remember that there is NO airline in the country (no matter how well they're doing now or how flush with cash they are) that is immune to a lengthy elevated fuel price.

Christine said...

I'm in the middle of training for my commercial certificate, and this is all just terribly depressing. It's just been shocking to learn about what this profession is really like, and what's more surprising is that I'm still planning on making a go of it. Do you have any suggestions or advice for someone like me? How do I avoid getting completely screwed by my employers?

I already know not to pay for training and that it hurts everyone in the profession when a low time pilot takes a job for free or for super low pay. But, there are so many people who will do that. Is there honestly any way to succeed in this profession without doing that? Or without burning through all my savings and selling my house? Seriously.


Sam said...


You make some salient points. However, I don't think we're at the point of "pricing ourselves out of existence," as my airline has made the most money of the airlines in our corporation, with existing payrates.

So far as fuel hikes are concerned - one reason this has affected the industry so badly up to now is that it hasn't affected all airlines equally. If it had, they would've all raised their ticket prices together, and nobody would've lost money. However, the airlines with smarter management (particularly yours) had extensive hedges for fuel far below market rates, allowing them to maintain low ticket prices and still make money. Nobody else was willing to raise their prices and send business to the LCCs, so yeilds stayed depressed and airlines lost money by the bucketfull. Now, however, the hedges are running out. Everybody's coming to a level(er) playing field where fuel is concerned, and yeilds should improve.

GC said...

Hedges aren't running out. We have them through 2010, from what I understand. Also, they are ALWAYS looking for new ones.

Remember, every pilot contract that has been slashed in the last five years was negotiated during the good times. When I said "be careful not to price yourselves out of existence," that's exactly what I mean. If you're MEC is careful to negotiate a non-predatory, mutually beneficial contract, then you can be assured that your airline has a better chance of success when things get lean again. It should never be about "Woohoo! We made money! Where's our cut?" It should, however, be about "Okay. We're profitable. Let's see what we can do with our rate of pay and work rules that not only benefits the pilot group, but also the company."

Sam said...

GC, let me rephrase that. Your hedges are not running out, but the ones for really good prices negotiated several years ago are. The hedges you'll have in place over the next few years are pretty close to the rates the rest of the industry will pay.

Given management's reasonable attitude at your company, I'd agree with your sentiment. That's the way it should be everywhere, in a perfect world. Unfortunately, many in management elsewhere believe that labor costs can never be low enough, and they must always take every morsel they can get. In our case, they will use the "barbarians at the gates" scare tactic to try to get us to accept a cut, and very conveniently downplay the fact that we are already profitable and competitive. It's not a matter of "woohoo, we made money, where's our cut." It's a matter of "we don't believe you that the company needs our money to survive."