On October 24th, 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Airline Deregulation Act, ending the nightmare of total government-control over air travel. But now 34 years later, just in time for Halloween 2012, a new, shadowy threat has emerged from the depths of the airline industry to strike terror into the hearts of weary air travelers everywhere.
It’s – Attack of the Killer Pilots Union!
The Allied Pilots Association (APA), the largest of the unions representing American Airline employees, has rejected a generous contract offer from the ailing airline; pay raises coupled with a 13.5 percent stake in the new company in exchange for the flexibility to transfer some operations to allied airlines. The pay raises were offered in spite of the fact that last year American was forced into bankruptcy due in part to their stratospheric labor costs – payouts to its unions consume an estimated 28 percent of the company’s budget, according to the Timothy H. Lee of the Center for Individual Freedom.
APA officials are suspicious of the length of the proposed contract – six years – and worry that it may impose a two-tier wage system with pilots of new Airbus A319 planes receiving lower pay.
But by obstinately refusing to go along with the financial restructuring American needs to emerge from bankruptcy as a profitable enterprise, the APA can be said to be killing the goose that laid – if not the golden -- at least the alabaster egg: According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average airline pilot’s salary is around $103,000.
And there’s a darker, more troubling side to this dispute. As it turns out, it’s more than just American’s fiscal fly-ability and the generous salaries of pilots that are in danger -- the intransigence of the union is threatening the safety of the company’s passengers as well.
In most circumstances, pilots are legally prohibited from striking, so the unionized pilots of the APA have engaged in a potentially dangerous guerrilla campaign to disrupt American operations.
The number of sick days taken by American’s pilots in September 2012 increased 21 percent from the same month last year. In response to this sickening “sick-out,” the airline has been forced to find last-minute replacements or cancel flights. Dennis Tajer, spokesman for APA, claims it’s all merely an unfortunate coincidence: “there is no union endorsed activity.”
Also unfortunate are the mechanical “issues” the airline has recently been facing. Since the contract dispute began pilots have reported a suspicious number of maintenance problems – everything from broken coffee pots or tears to seat-back pockets -- that conveniently prevent or delay take off.
Maybe it’s all been the work of gremlins (William Shatner was unavailable for comment) but Henry Harteveldt, an industry researcher with Atmosphere Research Group, thinks some of these problems are the product of malicious design. “There's no question,” commented Harteveldt on the most disruptive labor dispute he’s seen in the industry in 23 years, “the [American] pilots are engaging in business sabotage.”
The higher-ups at American aren't amused. Senior vice president of people at American Airlines, Denise Lynn, wrote in a letter to APA officials that the airline will seek legal action if the pilots’ egregious behavior persists:
“The conduct at issue is inflicting economic damage on the Company; it is frustrating and alienating our customers; and it is driving unnecessary work and significant stress for other employees. If this conduct continues, it will diminish the value of the Company and the ultimate return to our creditors.”
No kidding. How ironic that, having freed itself from the fetters of government over-regulation in 1978, the industry now finds itself captive to its own employees.
On Halloween, everybody loves a scare -- if it’s all in good fun. Unfortunately, there’s nothing fun about a union holding an entire company, nay, an entire industry, hostage with an orchestrated and potentially deadly blackmail campaign.
But it is scary.