Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
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

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyons
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]