At an American Airlines employee meeting last week, a pilot asked CEO Doug Parker why the company needed to interject itself into political issues – like state election law – to please people in media and on twitter. After all, customers fly American to get from point A to point B, not for its position on voting rules, so why upset people on the other side?
View From The Wing reviewed a recording of Parker’s response,
To us this isn’t a partisan issue. We don’t get involved in partisan politics, we don’t want to. It’s an equity issue. The statement we’ve made is in support of our team.
Let me back up and tell you how we came to that conclusion. Anyone I think would agree that it’s important there be integrity in the voting results so no one’s going to dispute that.
The issue that’s arisen in these efforts and these bills is they’ve become very divisive. They tend to be on political lines but they also tend to be on lines of people of color versus others, and that’s what we saw.
So as soon as Delta was being asked and making statements in Georgia, I started getting questions from a lot of team members about where’s American on this? People of color primarily feeling as though these laws are making it much harder for people like them to vote. And given the history of this country, that’s something that’s happened in the past, and they’re very much concerned that’s what’s happening again.
So you have that concern coming from team members. About the same time there’s a letter from 70-odd black executives, CEOs and others, saying hey business we have to get involved in this. This is an effort to restrain the right for people like us to vote. And then on top of that the NAACP the legal defense fund has filed a opposition to the Texas law. And that’s when we made a statement was when the Texas Senate passed something, and we were being asked by a lot of our team to get involved and by the way the Delta issue was already going on.
We looked at all that, and again not by any means trying to make one side happy or the other but doing what we do which is trying to bring people together on a very divisive issue that’s divided along cultural lines to say we’re opposed to this.
And without getting into great detail, I’m happy to if anyone who wants to, but when you look at as we did the provisions that are in that Texas law – things like not allowing polling centers to be open except 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. that makes it harder for working people to get there, certainly people who work off-shift. Only having a certain number of polling positions per polling office, so if you’re in an urban area you’re probably going to have a longer line than someone in a rural area. Things that people of color feel as though as designed to make it harder for them to vote.
So anyone my short answer to all of this is we’re not trying to pick a side with Democrats or Republicans or voting integrity or not, but we are absolutely going to stand with our black employees and our latino employees when they feel like – and we can make a difference and what we say is important – and today in this country it is.
…We feel very strongly. We did the same thing by the way on things like bathroom bills in North Carolina and Texas, which I’m proud of irrespective of anybody’s politics it’s about pulling people together, it’s about supporting our team.
And by the way there’s a business issue that comes out of this. On those bathroom bills, what happened when North Carolina passed theirs? They lost the NBA All Star Game, they lost Bruce Springsteen concerts, they lost travel. That’s what’s going to happen and it’s happened now in Georgia. They lost the Major League Baseball All Star Game. They’re going to lose travel. That affects us.
I don’t want to say that’s the full reason, we didn’t do it primarily because of business reasons, we did it for what I said, in support of our team. But it does have business reasons.
The more we divide ourselves, and the more divisive we become, the less likely it is that people are going to travel to states that take divisive stances, and that’s not good for us either.
…The short answer is this is not trying to make one side happy or the other. We knew full well the easiest – I was about to say the easiest thing was to stay out of it, that’s not the easiest thing. I think there was virtually no chance we could stay out of it. You have to take a stand on these things. We were asked to take a stand and so we did.
In 2017 the NAACP issued a ‘travel warning’ against flying American Airlines after Womens March Co-Chair and Louis Farrakhan supporter Tamika Mallory, traveling to Al Sharpton’s daughter’s wedding, was kicked off a flight in a dispute over a seat (she reported changing her middle seat to an aisle on a kiosk, but was denied that aisle seat).
Since then Parker has become heavily focused on issues of race. He reports wearing a Black Lives Matter wristband since last May and had a viral conversation with a Southwest Airlines flight attendant about race prompted by his reading White Fragility on board.
Listening to him talking about voting bills, he comes across as very sincere. The statement American issued on the Texas law was far more milquetoast than what Parker said to directly. The statement seemed as though American was pressured to speak out after Delta had done so ham-handedly (opposing Georgia’s law after claiming credit for its final form).
Parker sees himself as a protector, it’s also with how he described his legacy before the pandemic, that his mission is to make sure employees always have a job they can count on and feel taken care of (yet he managed to furlough more of them during the pandemic than any other airline CEO).
This isn’t the first time recently that Parker has dunked on Republicans. He was a Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton donor, and while he’s given to Republicans in the past decade that’s tended to skew towards the politically useful such as home-state Senators and members of Congressional committees with influence over airlines.