American Airlines Pilot Negotiations Turn Nasty In Public

American Airlines pilots negotiated a contract, but the union voted against sending it to its membership for a vote. Now they’re back in the media negotiating in public, saying that the airline’s failure to pay them enough, and improve their schedules enough, is why flights get cancelled. Even though that isn’t true.

This is a union shop and they want the best deal they can negotiate. That’s fair. But going on TV and talking about themselves as exploited workers as though flying for a major commercial airline is something out of a Dickens novel is unbecoming given six figure salaries and generous benefits. But that’s Dennis Tajer, head of communications for the American Airlines pilots union, for you.

'Exploitive' is hardly the right way to describe the airline-pilot relationship.

— gary leff (@garyleff) November 4, 2022

He goes on TV claiming that what stands in the way of better, more reliable operations at American Airlines is a new pilot contract. His argument makes no sense at all, but no one on TV knows enough to push back.

"…and now we’re watching passengers battle for tickets. Seats that should be available aren't. And the solution is in our contract. We can unleash the pilot training pipeline as well, but management is just not have the same sense of urgency."

— Ross Feinstein (@RossFeinstein) November 4, 2022

In an earlier interview Tajer suggested that the lack of a new pilot contract was causing American to cancel flights. American’s pilots have played that game before, ‘work to rule’ in a concerted (and illegal) job action. That doesn’t appear to be the case now.

Instead Tajer just seems to be suggesting that if American will impose new work rules that limit the airline’s ability to construct trips, meaning that the number of pilots they have won’t stretch across the current schedule and the airline will have to remove flights to compensate, then the airline will perform better. More onerous work rules for pilots, though, doesn’t make it easier for American to staff its operation. Quite the opposite! More contractual limits on scheduling work for pilots adds more stress to the operation, not less.

Just lying isn’t new to these negotiations, unfortunately. Over the summer Tajer falsely claimed on national television that the federal government was warning employees not to travel on American. Usually though he’s just talking gibberish and embarrassing the outstanding members of his union.

American’s pilots are going to get paid more. The longer negotiations drag on, though, the more they risk recessionary headwinds that could make getting as good a contract more difficult. Pilots themselves may not adjust their expectations, and when member expectations are misaligned with economic realities that becomes difficult for union leaders who can only fail to deliver the goods. The time for everyone to do a deal is right now, and lying to travelers doesn’t help get that done quickly.

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