FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why the Delta-Northwest Deal Hasn’t Taken Off

by CARL FINAMORE

Most of us dread the experience of getting stuck in an uncomfortable, overcrowded airport lounge after an overbooked or cancelled flight. But probably none of us has ever been seated on a plane that actually left the gate and was ready for take off before realizing no pilots were onboard.

That’s basically what happened a few days ago as Delta and Northwest airlines recessed their merger talks. News reports indicate the number three and number five US carriers were right on the brink of a deal when they cut engines and returned to the terminal.

Suddenly, it became very important to consult pilots.

There are indeed very substantial employee issues that every merger must deal with, but the absence of consultations with the Air Line Pilots Association, AFL-CIO, (ALPA) and other labor groups has not stopped management flying solo in the past. What’s different now?

Investors are deeply concerned about several costly problems still plaguing the 2005 US Airways/America West merger.

The biggest issue at US Airways is the nation’s 6th largest carrier’s failure after three years to reach post-merger agreements with its unions representing 30,000 employees. Pilots, ground crews, mechanics and customer service employees still work under terms of previous labor agreements which each union desperately wants to upgrade.

Aside from souring labor relations, the long delay in reaching labor settlements has largely prevented the two workforces from being integrated into a smooth, streamlined operation.

Flight crews, for example, cannot be mixed until one unifying ALPA contract is ratified.

But efficiency is not the only casualty of the current problems at US Airways that worries Wall St.

Last year, frustration with stalled negotiations prompted the International Association of Machinists, (IAM) and other unions to play a major role in nixing US Airways’ offer to buy Delta.

The IAM picketed at several airports with “No Contract [at US Airways], No Delta.” The offer to buy Delta went nowhere. Big-money merger enthusiasts fear labor’s opposition could also jettison today’s prospective NWA-Delta deal.

In fact, all the major transportation unions are dead set against repeating the mistakes at US Airways.

For example, the multi-union US Airways Labor Coalition recently issued a cautionary warning strongly advising “management teams across the industry to learn from the mistakes of US Airways management and work with labor before, during and after the merger process.”

Pilot Seniority is Up in the Air

But undoubtedly the most significant problem of past mergers that specifically caused the current Delta-NWA talks to break off is the issue of pilot seniority.

In fact, despite reportedly being offered substantial financial incentives from management, it is the single issue that stopped ALPA from agreeing to the Delta-NWA merger flight plan. Seniority gaps can result in enormous differences in rank, pay and routes which then dramatically affects personal lifestyle.

It is such a huge concern for pilots because of their problematic system of seniority integration. National ALPA has no established policy of how to combine workgroups from other airlines and, in fact, almost always relies on troublesome binding arbitration to decide each individual case.

The absence of a uniform, standard seniority policy established by the national union continues to cause grave problems. Pilots know this history very well and recite it with passion.

For example, during the 1986 merger of Northwest with Republic Airlines, an arbitrator awarded junior NWA pilots the lucrative Pacific routes over the heads of the senior Republic pilots. This is still a sore point among veteran pilots at NWA, over 20 years later.

Controversy follows almost every arbitration decision.

In the recent US Airways/America West merger, both pilot groups are represented by ALPA but both argue a different point of view of how the two groups should be joined.

Finally, following ALPA procedure, an arbitrator stepped in and decided to place many junior former America West pilots in line ahead of senior US Airways’ pilots. Predictably, this caused a serious rift among the 5500 pilots.

In fact, 3100 angry US Airways’ pilots recently petitioned the National Medication Board to schedule an ALPA decertification election. The election will occur between March 20-April 17, 2008.
It is being pushed by the non-AFL-CIO US Airline Pilots Association (US APA). This is really a non-group without funds or collective bargaining agreements that exists through support by the same union-raiding law firm that spawned the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).

To further worsen the situation, the US Airways’ ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC) filed a lawsuit against National ALPA protesting the arbitrators decision.

Other unions avoid some of these problems by having a seniority policy that extends credit for all years worked in the industry regardless of airline or union. Advocates of this system argue that it builds solidarity among airline workers and avoids the bitter division that pilots usually suffer after a merger.

The Machinists (IAM), for example, recognize the seniority of all workers joined together as a result of a merger from the “date of hire into the classification, regardless of which airline or union an employee comes from.”

Will Mergers Lift Off?

The issue of seniority for the 12,000 pilots of a potential Delta-NWA combine is not likely to be settled soon and it’s also unclear how all the other factors will ultimately affect the plans of Wall St. to join carriers.

It is very clear, however, that unions are now taking a much tougher stand toward mergers after the US Airways’ experience. A recent national meeting of IAM Local officers “unanimously agreed that any major airline merger would be anti-competitive … ” and they “agreed to prepare their membership for demonstrations … .”

The example of Delta-NWA management stepping back from their deal reveals nervous investors have heard labor’s warning. But it is likely this is only a temporary lull in their attempts to squeeze enormous profits from downsized carriers with fewer aircraft stuffed with more passengers being charged higher prices.

Unions, however, also appear better prepared today to confidently say that mergers will neither proceed without their participation nor succeed by expecting more concessions from employees.

CARL FINAMORE is a recently retired airline worker. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate, San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail