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American Airlines Pilots Stage Alleged "Sickout"
September 20, 2012 6:31 AM   Subscribe

American Airlines has been forced to cancel 300 flights this week as pilots, upset over a discouraging deal with their union (including pay and benefits cuts), have begun calling in sick in high numbers.
posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo (105 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hell yes.
posted by DU at 6:33 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I almost got stranded in Frankfurt when this happened to United. It's a surprisingly effective technique.
posted by tommasz at 6:35 AM on September 20, 2012


I've only been paying attention to stuff like this for the last few years, but have pilots always gotten the shit end of the stick in the airline industry?
posted by griphus at 6:39 AM on September 20, 2012


That end of the stick is reserved for passengers, griphus.
posted by notyou at 6:41 AM on September 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


I've only been paying attention to stuff like this for the last few years, but have pilots always gotten the shit end of the stick in the airline industry?

yes, second only to passengers.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 6:41 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


beaten to the punch!
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 6:42 AM on September 20, 2012


Yeah the union representing Lufthansa's cabin crews did this to me two weeks ago Friday when was in Munich.

I respect their right to put tools down, but not enough to let their protest keep me away from a weekend home with my kids. Sorry charlie. Punishing your customers to get at your boss is not without cost to you.

Air Berlin was more than happy to take me home instead.
posted by three blind mice at 6:42 AM on September 20, 2012


Air Berlin was more than happy to take me home instead.

So you wound up punishing their bosses, after all.
posted by notyou at 6:47 AM on September 20, 2012 [34 favorites]


I've only been paying attention to stuff like this for the last few years, but have pilots always gotten the shit end of the stick in the airline industry?

I think it's mostly been in the 35 years since deregulation. Deregulation has been pretty good for helping to drive prices down and increased competition, but it also led to the development of the hub-and-spoke system, drove down wages for everyone from mechanics to pilots to, well, everyone, decimated union power across the industry, and basically gave everyone the shaft, passengers included (if you take into account things such as amenities, seating room, flight schedules and routing, etc).

Before deregulation, pay, job load, and working conditions were pretty good across the industry from what I understand.
posted by hippybear at 6:49 AM on September 20, 2012


Union pilots have a pretty decent job. It's non-union pilots who are paid below subsistence wages, get minimal benefits, and have zero job security. It isn't unlike union and non-union faculty at a university.

Most big planes are operated directly by the airlines and are flown by union pilots, but they subcontract regional routes to separate smaller companies which are non-union.

The unions are (justifiably) terrified that the airlines will subcontract more and more of their flights, until the unions don't exist at all anymore.
posted by miyabo at 6:53 AM on September 20, 2012


Also, the reason airlines and universities are similar is that there's a huge mass of people who are willing to fly an airplane (teach a college class) for almost nothing, just for the privilege of doing it. So you need a union to keep wages high. It's a dynamic that isn't present in most professions I think.
posted by miyabo at 6:56 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


So you wound up punishing their bosses, after all.

I gave my business to a company whose business model offers far less to its employees than Lufthansa does.

You might see rewarding an even worse business model for cabin crew and pilots as "punishing their bosses", but I would say it only pushes those bosses closer to that same business model.

Unionized businesses can't act like there are not businesses without unions. Only public service unions can get away with that.
posted by three blind mice at 6:57 AM on September 20, 2012


I respect their right to put tools down, but not enough to let their protest keep me away from a weekend home with my kids.

I'm not sure if this is incoherent (when DO you want them to protest then?) or merely hypocritical (maybe just when OTHER people are traveling?). Either way, it's pretty disgusting.
posted by DU at 6:59 AM on September 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


Stranding people in airports is definitely a great way to get the public on your side. Way to go!
posted by downing street memo at 7:00 AM on September 20, 2012


I originally overheard something about this while I was in the Pittsburgh airport (I am on vacation). Didn't hear why at the time, just that people were getting kicked off and not being provided with rooms. I am glad we're not flying with them and hope this doesn't spread to my return flight before I get home.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:00 AM on September 20, 2012


I'm not sure if this is incoherent (when DO you want them to protest then?) or merely hypocritical (maybe just when OTHER people are traveling?). Either way, it's pretty disgusting.

Not to put words in anyone's mouth, but it reads like "go on strike and hurt management directly, instead of doing passive-aggressive sickouts that only piss off passengers without putting much of a dent in revenues"
posted by downing street memo at 7:03 AM on September 20, 2012


Why do strikes not strand passengers when sickouts do?
posted by DU at 7:04 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I respect their right to put tools down, but not enough to let their protest keep me away from a weekend home with my kids. Sorry charlie. Punishing your customers to get at your boss is not without cost to you.

Air Berlin was more than happy to take me home instead.


This is actually such a textbook case of how labor action should work. There is no other tool that employees have (beyond just asking management nicely and hoping) other than to cost their employers money through lost revenue, which means denying service to customers.

Think about it this way, if the cabin crew did conduct some sort of action that allowed the airline to keep serving passengers and keep making money like normal, why would management give a damn?
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:05 AM on September 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


Because a strike is known, predictable, and avoidable? Management can't keep flights on the board that they know pilots won't show up for. This "sickout" stuff is impossible to predict from the perspective of the passenger.
posted by downing street memo at 7:06 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unionized businesses can't act like there are not businesses without unions. Only public service unions can get away with that.

AFAIK, Air Berlin's pilots are members of Vereinigung Cockpit, just like Lufthansa's pilots. I doubt there are any airlines, based in Germany at least, that are flying with non-union pilots.
posted by cmonkey at 7:07 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I fully support your right to protest your working conditions as long as you don't inconvenience me.
posted by ryoshu at 7:07 AM on September 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


Meh. This way costs management even more. They have to field all those irate calls, provide shelter (or take the hit on refusing to), etc. Besides, the pilots in this case can't even strike, since their are ALSO protesting their own (apparently spineless) union.
posted by DU at 7:08 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I gave my business to a company whose business model offers far less to its employees than Lufthansa does.

You might see rewarding an even worse business model for cabin crew and pilots as "punishing their bosses", but I would say it only pushes those bosses closer to that same business model.

Unionized businesses can't act like there are not businesses without unions. Only public service unions can get away with that.


So what can they do? If consumers like you will wilfully stab them in the back by supporting these models, unions lose their entire power and we all suffer.

What you are suggesting is that unions have no recourse because consumers can and will support more exploitative companies. You're right, but don't say things like "I respect their right to put tools down" because clearly you don't. You support it so long as it doesn't affect you at all. That's not really support.

The whole idea of union activity is that what is good for a particular union makes it easier for other people to get the same standards. If you want those standards for yourself, you need to stand with the unions when they're getting exploited (and nobody I think disagrees that pilots get a hugely raw deal around the world) and occasionally take a personal dive for the collective...otherwise, you're right, those non-unionized, worse corporations take over.

I don't mean to call you out personally, it's just frustrating for people to pretend they're pro-union when they clearly will sell the union out to make their lives better. It's why union environments are under threat right now.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:11 AM on September 20, 2012 [28 favorites]


Unionized businesses can't act like there are not businesses without unions. Only public service unions can get away with that.

Well they certainly can't compete on price.

They must have offered you something worth the premium, otherwise you would have booked with Air Berlin from the get go.
posted by notyou at 7:11 AM on September 20, 2012


You support it so long as it doesn't affect you at all. That's not really support.

It's more like praying for them.
posted by Talez at 7:13 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I fully support your right to protest your working conditions as long as you don't inconvenience me.

Well, fair enough, but don't bitch when people are less than happy about the inconvenience and place the blame properly.
posted by downing street memo at 7:14 AM on September 20, 2012


If striking is better for passengers because it's predictable, can't airline companies lock out pilots attempting to sickout, or is that only legal for athletic organizations?
posted by muddgirl at 7:15 AM on September 20, 2012


My father is sitting in Toronto after a cancelled AA flight to New York. He's likely to miss his connections and is potentially missing out on his life-long dream vacation to a Hippo sanctuary in Zimbabwe.

So basically, fuck the pilots.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:16 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


miyabo: "Also, the reason airlines and universities are similar is that there's a huge mass of people who are willing to fly an airplane (teach a college class) for almost nothing, just for the privilege of doing it. So you need a union to keep wages high. It's a dynamic that isn't present in most professions I think"

Doesn't the fact that a huge mass of people are willing to do it for almost nothing mean that it should pay very little?
posted by Perplexity at 7:18 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Personally, I don't want some payed sub-living wages to be piloting the death ship that could go down in a fiery ball of wreckage and human bodies.

But that's just me.
posted by muddgirl at 7:19 AM on September 20, 2012 [25 favorites]


This makes me glad I swore off AA when their management decided it was a good idea to cancel an underbooked flight without even day-of notification. I have no problem assuming they'd treat their employees with just as much contempt.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:19 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


What you are suggesting is that unions have no recourse because consumers can and will support more exploitative companies. You're right, but don't say things like "I respect their right to put tools down" because clearly you don't. You support it so long as it doesn't affect you at all. That's not really support.

This is nonsense. United's the best airline to fly out of my city and to the cities I typically travel to. If United pilots went on strike in a transparent, open way, I'd happily - without grumbling - fly one of the much-less convenient airlines.

In this case, I get to fly American and worry that a passive-aggressive sickout might ruin my plans, and if they do, I get the joyful experience of being stuck in an airport perhaps indefinitely. So no, I don't support that, because the action punishes me, not the people responsible for their complaints.
posted by downing street memo at 7:20 AM on September 20, 2012


I understand that the vast vast majority here come down on the side of labor in nearly all circumstances, and that's fine, but how is this a fair way of bargaining? Sick time is for when you are sick, right? The union has a right to collective bargaining, and in the absence of a satisfactory deal should have the right to strike. Faking illness and stranding passengers all over the system to create leverage seems massively unfair to both the airline and the customers.

If I were negotiating for the airlines, I would gladly pay more in salary and benefits to get some provision in the contract that would allow discipline for misuse of sick time.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:21 AM on September 20, 2012


Doesn't the fact that a huge mass of people are willing to do it for almost nothing mean that it should pay very little?

Well, yes. Like everything else.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:22 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there penalties in the contract regarding unauthorized strikes? I've seen sick-outs used to skirt contract rules/penalties.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:22 AM on September 20, 2012


And again, if there are hundreds of qualified pilots drooling to fly these planes, why isn't American locking out their pilots and hiring scabs?
posted by muddgirl at 7:24 AM on September 20, 2012


...people are less than happy about the inconvenience and place the blame properly.

The customers are unhappy with how the company is doing business. The pilots are not in charge of the business. Customers need to blame management. Preventing your employees from wanting to "harm customers" is part of management.
posted by DU at 7:25 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Doesn't the fact that a huge mass of people are willing to do it for almost nothing mean that it should pay very little?

I don't know. I imagine that if pilots were all doing back-to-back flights, living on ramen, and sleeping on couches, there would be some safety implications (read about Colgan Air 3407).

why isn't American locking out their pilots and hiring scabs?

Because it's illegal. As a transit carrier, American operates under special federal labor regulations, which are relatively strict.
posted by miyabo at 7:34 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks, miyabo. Work slowdowns and sickouts are also illegal, according to NPR (which led to a very amusing interview with the union rep).
posted by muddgirl at 7:37 AM on September 20, 2012


In this case, I get to fly American and worry that a passive-aggressive sickout might ruin my plans, and if they do, I get the joyful experience of being stuck in an airport perhaps indefinitely. So no, I don't support that, because the action punishes me, not the people responsible for their complaints.

Well, for starters, they may not actually be able to strike. They've been moving towards it, but there are federal regulations which limit their ability to actually organize a strike.

I feel for people whose plans are interrupted or who have long layovers, but American pilots don't have a lot of options right now. Bankruptcy court foist a deal upon them that, quite frankly, sucks. They voted against it. Now the company is going harder at their jobs, salaries, benefits, everything. They can't just walk off the job.

This is what happens when union rights are regulated and/or don't exist. You end up with this subversive, destructive behaviour which, in a perfect world, would be an organized strike and settlement. AA's bottom line right now I assume is being decimated, as anyone with an AA flight is likely switching it, and they're getting their point across.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:37 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


The pilots' life long dream: a living wage, decent benefits, and better working conditions. Did someone mention hippos?
posted by Brocktoon at 7:38 AM on September 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Also, if a group of people is desperate enough that they are willing to inconvenience a lot of people and probably risk their jobs, I'm willing to help out in a tiny way by making an extra phone call to get myself another flight. "Hey man, sorry that you can't pay your medical bills and it'd really help you if I rode one train car from this one, but I *like* this train car." Ick.
posted by DU at 7:40 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Luckily 747 pilots are fungible. <hamburger/>
posted by blue_beetle at 7:43 AM on September 20, 2012


Rodrigo Lamaitre, it sounds like they need a better union. Again, punishing the passengers isn't the answer.
posted by downing street memo at 7:44 AM on September 20, 2012


because the action punishes me, not the people responsible for their complaints.

Sorry, how can I make this more clear? It doesn't matter one bit if it's a sick-out or a strike or whatever, there's no way to "punish" those responsible for the pilot's complaints (management) without disrupting passengers. I guess you could just go rob the management or set fire to corporate HQ, but I really can't imagine what you think would make management take notice but keep all the passengers happy. A strike is no more easily managed by passengers than a sick-out; most passengers buy tickets weeks and months in advance, which are often nonrefundable and have hefty fees for changing tickets, while any notice of a strike is only going to come a day or two in advance. Look a the Lufthansa strike, lots of people are just as "stranded" by that as they are by AA.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:44 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I get the joyful experience of being stuck in an airport perhaps indefinitely

So, you're stuck in a hypothetical airport where there are no other airlines operating any other flights to any other locations at any times? And there are no rental car agencies? And this hypothetical airport is located in some hypothetical city where there are no railway connections to any other locations on earth? Hm. That does sound like a sticky situation.
posted by elizardbits at 7:44 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rodrigo Lamaitre, it sounds like they need a better union. Again, punishing the passengers isn't the answer.

What would a better union do? Force federal regulations to allow them to strike? Force a bankruptcy court to overturn their own decision? They respond to, not direct, the legal environment they are in. They're boxed in legally.

I struggle to understand what a more effective union could do. Please spell it out for me.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:46 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Again, punishing the passengers isn't the answer.

1) Management only responds to money.
2) Passengers are the only source of money.

You have a better idea?
posted by DU at 7:46 AM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


According to the 'pedia, the Railway Labor Act, which also includes the airlines, is controlling, here. Strikes and lockouts are permitted, but only after a longish mediation and negotiation process has failed to resolve the dispute.
posted by notyou at 7:46 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


given that US airlines feel free to cancel your flight and/or move your connecting flight to physically impossible terminals when it is convenient for them, their profit, and their flight-scheduling algorithm and then make you beg for help, even access to a phone (actually, they won't let you use their phone... everyone has cellphones, right?) I can't even begin to feel outrage at a flight being cancelled or rescheduled because pilots feel like they are being screwed.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm willing to help out in a tiny way by making an extra phone call to get myself another flight.

It's more than the phone call, isn't it, though? It's also the extra cost of arranging a new flight, at the last minute, which will likely cost more than your original flight, possibly by a fair bit. That's assuming that you can get another flight, which is obviously not a guarantee; I imagine there are people having to cancel or postpone travel because there just isn't a flight going where they need it when they need it that isn't booked.

I'm sympathetic to the pilots, and I'm certainly not saying that the inconvenience of cancelling trips isn't worth it, on balance, but trying to paint everyone who is inconvenienced as if they're lazy cry babies who refuse to do anything is wrong, too.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:49 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The absurdity of DU and other's complaints is that I would guess that the "Sick-Out" was chosen (over a direct strike) to minimize the number of flights and hence customers that are actually inconvenienced.

- Or because the Capitalists have managed to convince the law to make it illegal to openly strike.
posted by mary8nne at 7:51 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The starting salary for a First Officer on American is $2,240/month.

Keep in mind this is after anywhere between 500-1000 hours of flight time working at a school, then years working at a regional carrier flying turboprops trying to get their ATP for even less money. Your typical regional connection pilot makes so little money that they could probably qualify for food stamps depending on the state. Keep that in mind next time you set foot into that ATR, Fokker or Embraer.

But by all means enjoy your $59 fare from SF to LA. Through ruthless cutting of market inefficiencies (read: good pay, benefits and pensions) commercial airliners have managed to bring the cost down to the point where its cheaper than driving by yourself.
posted by Talez at 7:52 AM on September 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Pitting pilots against passengers is a strategic move that only helps management. Like the "blacks vs gays" media narrative and any number of other false battles that keep the hoi polloi fighting against each other to distract them. Concentrate on the real problem.
posted by DU at 7:53 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


The absurdity of DU and other's complaints is that I would guess that the "Sick-Out" was chosen (over a direct strike) to minimize the number of flights and hence customers that are actually inconvenienced.

No, the sick-out was chosen over a direct strike because a strike happens via the union, which in this case has made a deal that the employees ostensibly represented by the union don't feel is acceptable.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:54 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is not a question of the union not being able to negotiate a good deal, or even an issue of a strike option following protracted arbitration. Earlier this month, a bankruptcy court ruled that AMR (American Airlines' parent company) could unilaterally slash its existing agreements with pilots in order to cut costs, throwing out a previous ruling that found in favor of the pilots' union. The pilots don't have a lot of options here.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:54 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everyone loses. That's the way work slowdowns/sickouts/strikes work. The question is: who will blink first?
In this instance, it appears that the AA pilots are responding to some serious issues that have been foisted on them by a bankruptcy court.
For the folks who are irritated by the AA pilots: what would YOU do? Put yourself in their shoes, if you can. I'm not suggesting that you should be the one to solve the problem, I'm suggesting some empathy for people who do a job that takes years of training, is high stress, and has been gutted in terms of making it a decent career path.
Some longer-term thinking: eventually there are going to be some pretty severe consequences for all this wage and benefit cutting. At what point will pilots (and potential pilots) say, "F it. I love flying but I can't pay my bills, the stress is going to kill me, and the management I work for ACTIVELY DESPISES ME. I'm just not going to do this."
posted by mfu at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So I just made an account to share my family's experience.

My father was a pilot for the US Airforce. From there he was hired on by one of the major carriers. He flew for them for nearly 30 years, until they went bankrupt a few years ago. It was his life. I got to spend half a week with him throughout my years at home. He was really great at scheduling the weekends off so he could be the assistant coach for all his sons' soccer teams, even if that meant taking the shit schedules during the week.

As the airline he dedicated his career to filed for bankruptcy (the CEO was being paid millions of dollars for this heroic efforts in this), the pilots' union was backed into the corner with the following offer: The older, higher-paid pilots, upon whose backs this airline grew into the megalith it is today, could take early retirement (commercial airline pilots are mandatory retired at 60 or so...can't recall the exact age...for health and safety reasons) and get HALF their promised pension plus some chump change lump-sum, which was less than the promised retirement lump-sum.

My father is an intelligent man and gambling that the bankruptcy courts wouldn't offer them less than that didn't seem prudent. So he retired a few years early and can't live off the pension, so my mother had to join the work force as a public school teacher, in her 60s, so they can get health insurance for her kidney illness. My father, only really knowing flying, has returned as a contracted (no benefits!) instructor for the same damn airline that kicked him to the curb, to make up for the lost portion of pension the airline squandered away somehow.

The pilots are not to blame. Sorry your dad can't see the hippos, WinnepegDragon, but my father had a lifelong career he didn't get to complete.

Fuck the huge commercial airlines.
posted by zyxwvut at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2012 [51 favorites]


For the umpteenth time: if you really care about something, "let the free market run it" is the WRONG choice. The problem with the airlines is a direct result of deregulation - the turning of transportation into a commodity.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:13 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, I idolized airline pilots. They were rich, exciting and travelled. I wrote letters to them, had posters and magazine subscriptions. I even saved enough to get a few flying lessons. Life happened and now, I drive an elementary school bus. The letters from kids now come to me.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 8:18 AM on September 20, 2012


griphus: ...have pilots always gotten the shit end of the stick in the airline industry?
Most of what I know about the career of airline pilots comes from reading Unions and Airlines, a short essay by Philip Greenspun. It paints a very different picture than "the shit end of the stick." I think it describes a pattern that is also evident in some other mission-critical unionized careers (like police). I cannot judge how balanced a view it is.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:20 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, after reading the article and the comments here can I get a takeback on my comment above? I am not sure what else they could do after getting hosed by the bankruptcy court. And I know I would not take well to having cuts unilaterally imposed on me.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:24 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The complaints about how inconvenient it is when workers fight for their livelihood is distressing in the same way it was when otherwise 'liberal' minded folk were pissed off at the Writer's Strike from a few years back. like "Yeah sure I get it, fair compensation and credit and benefit for your work, but COME ON, did it have to be during sweeps week???"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:40 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wait a minute. In the triad of Employer, Employee, and Customer, when the hell did we start mentally sorting Employees in with Customers? It isn't Employers versus Employees & Customers. There is no solidarity here. Every side of the market love triangle involve mutually exclusive goals. Confusing the matter by assuming otherwise produces all sorts of crazy phantoms. One phantom which immediately comes to mind is this absurd idea that employees are another variation of customer. But that is madness as that would mean they are paying their employers with their time for the opportunity to pay their employers with their time.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


One interesting aspect to this is that one of the key components of pilot training is measuring your emotional state and capacity to take on the responsibilities as a captain, every time you fly. You are encouraged to particularly look for underlying stressors that may cause you to make a mistake, such as loss of a family member, loss of job (loss of pay and benefits?), and so forth. It is the right medical decision to call off if you can't focus 100% on flying the airplane.

It is up to management to have enought qualified pilots on payroll to deal with those who need to call off.

So, I'm not saying this isn't a union work action (although I'm not clear on the legality of this), but it is also conceivable that in these circumstances there are a disproportionate number of pilots feeling stressed, upset and unfocused compared to the past. Again, the impact would be less if management hadn't already stripped the number of union pilots to the bone.
posted by meinvt at 8:49 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Because most Customers are also Employees of some other organization, and not Employers.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:49 AM on September 20, 2012


Much like gay marriage, Canada did this first.

A very similar tactic was used by Air Canada in early 2012. It created difficulty for people flying. The pilots called it pure coincidence and eventually it was formally ruled to be an illegal strike.
posted by dogbusonline at 8:49 AM on September 20, 2012


why isn't American locking out their pilots and hiring scabs?

From where? You can't just take any old pilot with an ATP rating and drop them in the cockpit of a 757 - there's a lot of training just to be able to fly one make and model of airliner. Even if they legally could do it, I doubt you'd be able to find anyone a) type rated for their aircraft and b) current. Plus, there's the learning curve on AA's Standard Operating Procedures. This isn't like putting day laborers on the assembly line.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:51 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


backseatpilot - my comment was in reaction to the idea that there are hundreds of pilots lined up and trained to do the job of those in the pilot's union. If that's not actually true (which was my guess), then the argument that the union is protecting artificially-inflated wages doesn't really hold up.
posted by muddgirl at 8:52 AM on September 20, 2012


(Basically it's a skilled labor union, not an unskilled labor union, which has a different set of problems, which is often very successful with strikes, which may be one reason why they're federally restricted).
posted by muddgirl at 8:54 AM on September 20, 2012


There isn't a huge pool of unemployed 757 captains waiting in the wings, but there is a large number of less experienced pilots looking to get into the "big iron". In a way you could compare it to baseball farm teams, except you'd have to extend the analogy a little bit. Typical job progression (if you're not coming out of the Air Force) tends to bring pilots from flight instruction (or banner towing, or any of the other small gigs that a commercial pilot license can get you) into the regionals, and then up to the big carriers. Pulling in scabs in this case would be like grabbing your kid's baseball coach to pitch for the Dodgers.

There's a big pool to pick from for the entry-level airline jobs (which is why first officer on an Embraer pays just a hair over minimum wage) but the ladder up is very steep and it's a significant investment to train up pilots for the more demanding jobs.

When you get your first job at the airlines you go to their flight schools to transition into their airplanes and get type rated. There's so much demand for these beginner positions that if you wash out of any airline's flight training program, you will never get hired by anyone else in the industry as a pilot again. There are too many people waiting to take your spot.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:04 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, I should also mention that because of seniority rules, these pilots are all essentially stuck at whatever company they end up with. The lower-ranked pilots can switch more easily, but if you're captain of a 747 at American and you quit your job to fly for Delta, you start out at the bottom like everyone else - first officer on a regional jet making 15 grand a year.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:15 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Because most Customers are also Employees of some other organization, and not Employers.

But these aren't classes. They aren't states of existence. They are relations. Being an employee you are not simultaneously a customer except possibly in parallel although probably only on your time off.

I didn't even consider that people think of them as classes. That is a terrible thing to think. You are then no more than your job and what you buy and your job is just another thing you bought. But I dunno now, maybe that is how everyone is. But I can't help but think that is so unhealthy, as ill as identifying oneself exclusively as a son or a daughter, or a husband or a wife, or a citizen or a soldier, or a mother or just a father and nothing more.

But, I guess I'll join the crowd. Ahem. Attention all striking pilots: by striking you are being bad pilots. Return to your duties and fulfill the responsibilities of your station. Society commands you to respect your singular identity as Pilots. If you continue this nonsense then we will have no other choice but to regard you all as Failures.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:19 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The links aren't making me very sympathetic to their cause. Pilots are such special snowflakes that conditions don't apply to them the way they do to the other eight unions who made concessions under the AA bankruptcy. The CNN article indicates the unions would be good with instigating a merger, so perhaps this is a bigger power play than first appears.

Regarding the pool of potential replacements, theoretically, if there is a large number candidates willing to fulfill the demand, pilots would have little bargaining power other than to organize to create artificial scarcity. If, on the other hand, there are not sufficient numbers of potential replacement pilots, the positions would need to be generous so as to attract people to the field. AFAIK, this isn't the case.

Complicating the picture is Western Infidels link, which complicates the conditions under which pilots are employed, some of which seem unique to their industry.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:20 AM on September 20, 2012


Maybe the pilots should have used hand sanitizer before taking control of the infected planes.
posted by double block and bleed at 9:23 AM on September 20, 2012


Pilots are such special snowflakes that conditions don't apply to them the way they do to the other eight unions who made concessions under the AA bankruptcy.

Well, they are rather essential to flying the planes.

However- with regard to concessions, the pilots might perhaps be more amenable to them if the business model of most airlines, for the past 30 years since deregulation, hadn't been one of running the company into the ground through a sort of "mutually-assured destruction" approach to competition, and then taking it out on labor.

After a while, it starts to feel like management might just be negotiating in bad faith.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:28 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, they are rather essential to flying the planes.

They're the makers vs the other eight unions of takers?

However- with regard to concessions, the pilots might perhaps be more amenable to them if the business model of most airlines, for the past 30 years since deregulation, hadn't been one of running the company into the ground through a sort of "mutually-assured destruction" approach to competition, and then taking it out on labor.

Mutually assured destruction is the bargaining chip by which unions and employers work out relations, in which the stronger entity tries to overpower the weaker. In this case, it's a little different in that the hand was dealt out by bankruptcy court. If the pilots are treating it like retribution for 30 years of deregulation, as some folks here seem to, I'm not sure where the wisdom is in that.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:52 AM on September 20, 2012


They're the makers vs the other eight unions of takers?

No. They have more leverage than those other trades.

Mutually assured destruction is the bargaining chip by which unions and employers work out relations, in which the stronger entity tries to overpower the weaker. In this case, it's a little different in that the hand was dealt out by bankruptcy court.

But they have less leverage than management + the bankruptcy court. Thus the wildcat sickout ("Skyblue Flu?").

Seems pretty straightforward.
posted by notyou at 10:00 AM on September 20, 2012


To clarify: "mutually-assured destruction" refers to the practice of undercutting the competition on fares to the point where no-one makes any money. Then you go and raid the pension funds and take a government bailout.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:01 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Doesn't the fact that a huge mass of people are willing to do it for almost nothing mean that it should pay very little?

That's the great thing about unions. When people aren't powerless, the amount they're "willing" to work for magically increases.
posted by the jam at 10:18 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


The complaints about how inconvenient it is when workers fight for their livelihood is distressing in the same way it was when otherwise 'liberal' minded folk were pissed off at the Writer's Strike from a few years back. like "Yeah sure I get it, fair compensation and credit and benefit for your work, but COME ON, did it have to be during sweeps week???"

Totally equivalent situations.
posted by downing street memo at 10:31 AM on September 20, 2012


TheWhiteSkull nailed it. Since deregulation, commercial aviation has been a race to the bottom and the business model is essentially "get out before you go under." The most profitable business model going is to start a new airline with brand new planes and awesome customer service, take advantage of the five year window that you have where you don't have to make any payments on all the money you borrowed to buy those new airplanes, and then hope you built up enough goodwill with your customers in that span that they don't abandon you in droves once you start cutting back on services and adding fees when the note comes due. Oh, yeah, amd hope some new airline hasn't popped up to undercut you. It's usually at this stage when Airlines start trying to bust their unions.

The real problem here is that deregulation created an environment that fostered a sense of entitlement among customers that it's only right that we should have cheap fares AND awesome customer service from the airlines. It also created the illusion among management that sustainable high profits could be derived from this new business model through increased volume. It can't. Commercial Aviation has very low profit margins (or at least lower than their owners, customers and yes, even their employees expect). There is also a fixed cost to every flight. It does you no good as an airline if you are flying at capacity yet the revenue can't meet those costs.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:40 AM on September 20, 2012


I'm curious what the Randroids think of this one. Is it the Galt led work action of the intelligent or is it the creeping statism of socialist pension seekers?

Someone should ask paul ryan and see which pages of Atlas Shrugged he actually read.
posted by srboisvert at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2012


griphus: "I've only been paying attention to stuff like this for the last few years, but have pilots always gotten the shit end of the stick in the airline industry?"

No, that's reserved for mechanics and flight attendants. The pilots are being overentitled whiners in this case. Seriously. They're mad that their contract will only be a little better than that at the other airlines. American is in no way being as draconian with them as they could be. They're freezing the pension, not dissolving it. They're offering a stronger scope clause than any other US airline has. Not only that, but AA, rather than declaring bankruptcy years ago as their competitors did, decided not to stick it to creditors and negotiate in good faith with employees. Yet they're still getting a bunch of shit from the union agitators who don't have any clue as to what's actually going on here.

What the pilots are actually doing is trying to force a merger with US, as Doug has offered them (and the other labor groups) some pie-in-the-sky good contracts. Unfortunately, there's no way the combined airline will stay out of bankruptcy for more than a few years.

Unfortunately, I think we may be in the midst of seeing Eastern 2.0.
posted by wierdo at 11:08 AM on September 20, 2012


Since deregulation, commercial aviation has been a race to the bottom and the business model is essentially "get out before you go under."

Actually...

I'm curious what the Randroids think of this one.

I'm by no means an objectivist--I think it's kind of repellent, actually--but I'm in agreement on them on this point. The problem is that we haven't deregulated enough.

Because there absolutely are fixed costs to running an airline. Big ones. This...

It does you no good as an airline if you are flying at capacity yet the revenue can't meet those costs.

Is absolutely true. So why do we have all these unprofitable airlines running around?

Well it might be because we keep bailing the bastards out. We should have let the airlines fold in 2002, when they took a big hit from the fallout of 9/11.

Why? Because as long as firms get the idea--totally justified at this point--that the government will never, ever let a semi-major corporation fail, they've got no incentive to use reasonable efforts to stay sustainable. Capital will always have an incentive to push compensation down, but customer service and reliability matter. If you cut wages, customer service goes down, but if you then inject billions of dollars of stimulus money, there's no way for customer dissatisfaction to force any change in corporate behavior.

I'd suggest that the main reason there can be a race to the bottom is because airlines are basically just banking on either government bailouts or bankruptcy proceedings. And the reason bankruptcy proceedings are even an option is because the government guaranteed $10 billion in loans to the industry. This was necessary because the private sector took a look at the business model and said "Uh, no thanks." We propped up a dying and unsustainable set of businesses, why? Well in no small part as a sop to the unions.

We should have just let the businesses fail. Pilots would have lost their jobs, but I think only in the short term. There is too much demand for air travel for someone not to want to get in on that action. The result would probably have been a more expensive but more reliable and sustainable airline industry with higher wages and better amenities.

So the problem was that we deregulated the industry but then refused to accept the consequences for deregulation.

If this is sounding anything like the complaints about financial deregulation, it's because it is. The libertarian/objectivist/Ron Paul take on most of that stuff is that the bailouts are blatant crony capitalism and represent political corruption of the highest form. It's one of the main criticisms of the stimulus idea: with political discretion and incentives, "stimulus" is a joke. It's just corporate welfare.

F*ck that noise. Let 'em burn. The genius of capitalism is creative destruction. There can be some pain there, but that's what you need to make the "creative" part work. Otherwise there's no incentive to do anything other than what caused the problems in the first place.
posted by valkyryn at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


wierdo: No, that's reserved for mechanics and flight attendants. The pilots are being overentitled whiners in this case. Seriously. They're mad that their contract will only be a little better than that at the other airlines. American is in no way being as draconian with them as they could be. They're freezing the pension, not dissolving it. They're offering a stronger scope clause than any other US airline has. Not only that, but AA, rather than declaring bankruptcy years ago as their competitors did, decided not to stick it to creditors and negotiate in good faith with employees. Yet they're still getting a bunch of shit from the union agitators who don't have any clue as to what's actually going on here.

This. The pilots were offered the best contract at a major airline in the country and they said 'no'. The judge ruled the union was being intransigent and let American impose their own terms, and AA imposed the ones they had offered in the rejected contract (instead of taking the opportunity to be more draconian and lock-in agreements for more commuter-style aircraft that don't pay nearly as well for pilots). It's not management that's being the jerks in this case.
posted by BlueDuke at 11:30 AM on September 20, 2012


The "stimulus" was not about corporate welfare...it was primarily infrastructure, support to state/local governments, and tax breaks.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 11:33 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The "stimulus" was not about corporate welfare

That's a very limited definition of "stimulus". Check it out. I'm not just talking ARRA, but also TARP, Fannie/Freddie, Bear Stearns, AIG, the whole ball of wax. I'd also include QE1-3 here.
posted by valkyryn at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2012


I guess my problem is the conflation of these. The stimulus (ARRA) is one thing, the bailouts are another.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 11:47 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which airlines got government money during their bankruptcies? I seem to recall them getting a wad right after 9/11, but nothing after that.
posted by wierdo at 11:52 AM on September 20, 2012


Which airlines got government money during their bankruptcies?

I'm sorry, that was confusing.

The point here is that they wouldn't even have been able to make it to bankruptcy if they hadn't been using government money. The loans they were declaring bankruptcy on? Backed by $10 billion in loan guarantees from Uncle Sam. So it's not like they're getting new handouts how, but they wouldn't have even survived to go bankrupt if it hadn't been for the handouts a decade ago.
posted by valkyryn at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2012


As Rodrigo Lamaitre pointed out above, the reason that this is a sick-out rather than a strike is because the APA cannot yet legally strike. It's also why union officials are denying it. EG, in the Washington Post:
Last week, the union sent out ballots for a strike-authorization vote, although federal officials have not cleared the way for a legal strike at the nation’s third-biggest airline.

Allied Pilots Association spokesman Tom Hoban said Monday that the union neither sanctioned nor supported a sickout.
American Airlines pilots have staged sick-outs before: this interesting BLS paper describes the 1999 American Airlines pilot sick-out and its aftermath.
posted by Westringia F. at 12:18 PM on September 20, 2012


It's not a sick out. That was like two or three months ago. What they're doing now is being deliberately slow and excessively picky about the aircraft. It's sort of like working to rule but not, since the rules intentionally leave room for discretion which the pilots are now abusing. Which is sad, I like that they have discretion.

So I guess you could just call it a slowdown.
posted by wierdo at 12:39 PM on September 20, 2012


This sick-out/faux-strike (whatever you want to call it) just affected me and group of my friends--all stranded between 15 and 48 hours in Indianapolis (we were all there for a wedding from San Francisco).

I can tell you first-hand that the MOST annoying part was the lack of information and/or willingness to make alternate arrangements for passengers. Also, they wouldn't outright cancel a flight...they just kept delaying and delaying and delaying. We continued to ask what was going on (weather? mechanical?), and the most information I got from an agent was, "the pilots are really fatigued."

My best friend and her boyfriend had a flight at 6a on Sunday. They were told it was delayed until 11a. Then noon, 2p, 4p, and 6p. At this point, they would've missed their connecting flight (the LAST one for the day) and been stranded at DFW. They weren't offered a hotel, or a rebooking for the following day. The only thing American offered was a refund for their tickets. Guess how much a new ticket home would cost on another airline? Over three thousand dollars (the only seats for days were first class). They finally raised some hell and got re-routed to DC (yes, the wrong direction), then back to San Francisco. The ONLY reason they even got that is because they tweeted American and they were able to work something out over the phone (seriously).

My husband and I were reasonably better off. We spent 2+ hours on the phone with American and got them to put us up in a hotel for the night, then rebooked on Delta the next day. This was after we offered to rent a car and drive to Chicago, but they couldn't guarantee the flight wouldn't be cancelled or delayed in Chicago, either. It caused me to miss a pretty important career-changing meeting at work on Monday, but thank god I was able to reschedule.

Anyway - all of this is to say that while I personally am sympathetic to the pilots and their cause, my friends who faired worse definitely are not. They are royally pissed. Other customers were absolutely losing their shit on the desk agents--I felt sorry for them.

I think our experiences probably say more about the piss-poor management of American rather than their "striking" pilots. Management totally mishandled the customer situation.
posted by bienbiensuper at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course they can't guarantee anything. The pilots are showing up and making up excuses as to why they shouldn't fly at the last second. What do you expect them to do, become clairvoyant? (That doesn't excuse the gate agent's poor handling of getting your friends rerouted) I do sympathize, though. My SO has been dealing with this crap for the last week or so. Sadly, it's only getting worse.

FWIW, with any airline it helps if you know what flights you wish to be changed to and specifically ask for that. The unfortunate reality is that GAs don't make enough reservations to know how to work the system well and find odd routings that don't come up in a simple search.

That is pretty bad, though. I'd also be mad if a 9AM scheduled departure turned into an actual departure time of 4:54PM. With that long of a delay, I suspect they had to fly in another pilot or something.
posted by wierdo at 2:37 PM on September 20, 2012


I thought the endless delays instead of actually canceling flights situation was because the airlines would be obligated to make other arrangements for you (food/hotel vouchers, refunds, &c) if they canceled? And if they just keep delaying it they don't have to? Or something?
posted by elizardbits at 2:44 PM on September 20, 2012


I was under the impression that pilots weren't paid well at all anymore. Wasn't there something a few years ago about Delta pilots being officially told not to wear their uniform while standing in line to get food stamps?
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2012


elizardbits, in the US, you aren't obligated to anything except a refund for anything an airline might do to you. Yes, our consumer protection laws are that bad. You may have more protection on certain flights involving foreign countries.

As far as pay goes, mainline pilots are paid very well. Captains make up to $300,000 a year for usually around 15 days work per month. Less senior captains get paid less and work more, but still 6 figures generally, but it depends on the routes they fly. More passengers and more time in the air means more money. The pay scale varies by airline, but they're well paid on any mainline operation.

Commuter airline pilots, on the other hand, are having a fantastic year if they clear $30,000. Most of them get paid somewhere between what a shift leader and an assistant manager would make at a stingy fast food joint.
posted by wierdo at 3:18 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ahhh, in that case it makes a lot more sense why they delayed and delayed and rerouted folks through 3+ stops, rather than just cancelling. I had no idea that if they outright cancelled we'd be entitled to other things. In that case, I feel very lucky we got rebooked on Delta.

Also, people actually left the gate/secure area and went to talk to an actual desk agent (the gate agents were totally inundated), and got on kayak.com to try and find other flights/routes. I think that's how another set of our friends finally got out--they found a reroute through Miami (they were going to Belize on vacation).
posted by bienbiensuper at 4:43 PM on September 20, 2012


Much like gay marriage, Canada did this first.
A very similar tactic was used by Air Canada in early 2012. It created difficulty for people flying. The pilots called it pure coincidence and eventually it was formally ruled to be an illegal strike.


In Harperland, all labor disruptions are illegal and legislated out of existence, with contracts favorable to management imposed, because FRAGILE ECONOMIC RECOVERY.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:23 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as pay goes, mainline pilots are paid very well. Captains make up to $300,000 a year for usually around 15 days work per month. Less senior captains get paid less and work more, but still 6 figures generally...
Commuter airline pilots, on the other hand, are having a fantastic year if they clear $30,000. Most of them get paid somewhere between what a shift leader and an assistant manager would make at a stingy fast food joint.


This does sound a lot like higher education. At some point the people with the cushy jobs have got to realize that they've got to fight for everyone, or there'll be nobody to fight for their pension when it's taken away.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:25 PM on September 20, 2012


bienbiensuper: "I had no idea that if they outright cancelled we'd be entitled to other things."

I think you missed what I was saying. You're not entitled to anything at all except a refund of the unused portion of your ticket. You can thank deregulation for that. In the past, airlines were required to put you on another airline if they couldn't get you to your destination with less than a certain delay (I think 4 hours), to pay for overnight accommodations (if available and necessary given your delay), and provide meal vouchers, again, if delayed through a meal time and the delay was more than a certain length.

They often still do, especially for their most frequent fliers, but it's entirely voluntary now.

I think it's a sorry state of affairs, but it is what it is, at least for the US. Now, if you're flying out of the EU, no matter the destination, you're entitled not just to replacement transportation, but also monetary compensation for delays exceeding (I believe) four hours.
posted by wierdo at 6:06 PM on September 20, 2012


The state of the airline industry right now is beyond sickening. When I was a flight attendant, I made more than some of the First Officers, and there were times when we would have to take food off the plane in order to eat. I don't know anyone, pilot or FA, who's been in the industry longer than ten years who hasn't been furloughed at least once.

Not to mention the ridiculous rest requirements, where "rest" counts as 20 minutes after the plane lands, and can be as low as 8 hours. That sounds great, but it generally takes at least ten minutes to get out of the airport at the very least, ten minutes to wait for the hotel van, twenty to get to the hotel, then to check in, ect ect add in time for actually getting ready for bed, falling asleep, and then getting ready? That's generally five hours of sleep if you're lucky.

I can't believe there haven't been more crashes. Management is running these guys ragged, flying with a bare minimum of pilots, and always threatening their job security at every turn. And American management is the ugliest, most hostile management out there. Good for the pilots. They shouldn't take any pay or benefit cuts until the management that's been running them into the ground does.
posted by jnaps at 6:14 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


First, I gave up on flying AA years ago. Crappy airline.

Second, if I were a bunch of pilots who wanted to stick it to management, I'd fly each route juuuust a little longer. Enough to use 15 minutes more of cruising fuel, perhaps.

Multiplied by each flight? The cost would be enormous. Hippos still get viewed, parents still get home.
posted by BeeDo at 6:21 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unions are just corporations whose product is the provision of labor. Unions are vendors to other corporations who consume labor to produce goods and services. The basic problem with unions is that they're government-sanctioned monopolies, which prevents any sort of market forces from mediating the negotiations between vendor and client. Calling it deregulation is a farce.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:26 PM on September 20, 2012


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