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.

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.

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sometimes unions can be stupid.

    I worked for Greyhound Lines as a Driver for 25 years (1980-2005) and in my situation, it was management that was stupid starting with the CEO named Teets in 1982-83. Back then Greyhound was a nationwide company serving hundreds of local communities. It was a great job with very good pay. In 1980 the Greyhound Corporation was a large conglomerate that owned many companies and was ranked # 65 on the Fortune 100 list. Today it is just a shadow of its former self that pays its union workers the bare minimum it can.

    All its free & clear owned properties were sold off and some were then leased back. Where the money went is anybody’s guess. Even today the only things this company owns outright are the stationery and paper clips.

  2. Get about a dozen pilots and a dozen from management, put them in a ring together and let them fight it out. The last man standing gets to call the shots and the rest can go back to work if they are able.

  3. Even suggesting that a unionized airline group is doing something to harm the company is a quick way for the union to be handed a judgment…. which will very likely be negotiated down as part of a future contract. Talk like this hurts the front line workers and APA (AA’s pilot union) has done this before.

  4. “… six figure salaries and generous benefits…” you are obviously not a pilot. Becoming a pilot in today’s environment is a long, expensive, and arduous road. If you think that six figure salary and generous benefit package is too much. I suggest you become a pilot and go do the job. You will quickly learn that you don’t have any understanding of the long road to get to those benefits. American and other airlines benefit from having safe, experienced pilots that meet standards set. They invested over $60,000 before they could earn a penny flying. Then they were underpaid for several years while trying to earn that ATP certificate. American Commercial aviation is as safe as it is now because of all this. These pilots earned it. And for you to denigrate their earnings and benefits as if they didn’t earn them, is an insult. The problem at AA isn’t the pilots, it’s the poor management.

  5. @UnionTHAT “If you think that six figure salary and generous benefit package is too much.”

    Never said that! It’s a big investment and (artificially-constraint) supply-demand dictates a good salary.

    Just don’t suggest pilots are “exploited workers” akin to child laborers in South Asia

    And no one argues the problem at American is the pilots. Dennis Tajer, though, is not honest on television.

  6. @UnionTHAT Making up a point that no one made and then arguing against it isn’t going to win you many supporters. In fact, it’s a bit like making up a bunch of lies and then saying them on TV to try and get sympathy.

  7. Not a big fan of negotiating in public, but the goal is getting a contact. Sometimes management does it (and worse) when it can work to its advantage, sometimes unions do it (and worse).
    It’s all part of the process. Ho hum.

  8. Gary, isn’t it the pilot unions that push the artificial barrier to entry (1,500 expensive hours) so they can get paid more because of pilot scarcity?
    Then they complain they are overworked because there aren’t enough pilots (thanks to their efforts to limit access).

  9. Jorge

    1500 hours is a basic minimum to ensure basic competence and experience when flying passengers. Its only 1000 hours if the pilot has a qualified training program from a qualified college degree program or the militray.

    The 1000/1500 hour has everthing to do with safety and little to do with pay. Most American pilots have over 4000 hours as a new-hire.

  10. This piece of “journalism” reads like an anti union right to work propaganda piece or maybe something produced by Ford-Harrison, a well known labor busting law firm.

    Did you interview the APA President for this piece or even care to get his side before weighing in? Being a pampered and interested passenger gives you about a micron sized glimpse into what goes on in the life of an airline employee, especially as it deals with cleaning up the mistakes of management. Front line airline labor has been doing that for about two years now.

  11. Then you don’t know any AA pilots who have schedules stretched from 2 to 3 then to 5 day trips through reassignments and maintenance issues. It’s exhausting. No ability to plan for days off because, you are ready reserve for reassignment while flying a bid line. Company is breaking scheduling rules left and right and telling the pilots they must fly as told then file a grievance. The list of QOL abuses goes on. Tajer isn’t akin them to child slavery … however for a SAFETY aspect, they are being inhumanely flown(as are flight attendants) if it was money they wanted.. they would have passed the agreement, it’s FLIGHT and SCHEDULING rules. The ability to have a home life. Did you know the company can schedule a 30 hour layover and that counts as a “day off” in 7 days under FAA flight rule 117? A day off away from home?

    As for 1500 hours. That’s an FAA rule. Yes a union can have an opinion but it really comes down to safety. Do YOU want to get on a jet with a guy/gal that has only flown 500- 1000 hours in a small aircraft that could have be acquiring time over 5 years? Think about who you want passengers lives in their hands.. experience or less hours. American furloughed, couldn’t retrain furloughed pilots while keeping current pilots current in yearly training and accommodate for upgrades due to many retirements based on mandatory age. That is MANAGEMENTS fault.

    Do research before you write some stupid article like this one. Really sounds like you’re bitter you’re not a pilot. Most people seem to think you’re a disgruntled for AA employee. I believe that now

    Lost all respect for your “view” from a chair… not a wing

  12. Leff,

    Guess what?! Dennis is absolutely correct in everything he says!
    Coming from a “Team Member” here at AA! You have ZERO credibility as a
    blogger! Quit bashing hard working crew members with your misinformed article.
    Know your role.

  13. @Bill Smith – funny you do not explain why or how you believe the nonsense he spewed about limiting trip length improves ops over the coming holidays was accurate.

  14. Gary.

    They have a published bid line… then reassign reassign etc with minimal behind the door rest and extends trips by not a day, but days… substandard noisy hotels… no heat or AC in many… you’re really out of touch with this article on the “view points” from the desk not “wing”

    Limiting trip length gives rest , which means less cancelled flights from fatigue and reassigned… how hard is that to grasp from you keyboard. (Not a flight deck)

  15. @Joey – I have written about the problems with AA trip bidding *extensively* and about hotels, the limo desk, violations of the contract in scheduling reserves (and how AA tells pilots just to ‘grieve it’ when they complain).

    I am no defender of AA here! But Tajer’s comments were silly.

  16. Gary… takers comments are not silly if you live the issues in real life.. not behind a keyboard

  17. @gary

    You’ve lost all respect based on your clear attack at Tajer personally… the issues are real. The blatant contract violations and reassignments are real for FA AND pilots you clearly do not wish your family to be safe with rested pilots. No need to say any more

  18. Pilots won’t have to battle for very much longer! No one is talking about the Diesel Shortages that are coming or that aviation fuel is in that mix! The travel industry is about to get even worse…

  19. Why do they blame the Company? The union has a negotiating team sitting across the table from the company negotiators. Together they create a tentative agreement. They need to blame their own team as much as the company.

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