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Latest News - April 2010

April 12, 2010
How will airline labor struggles affect travelers
Source: Dallas News
Author: Terry Maxin


Many people are wondering whether their summer vacation plans will be disrupted by an airline strike. The answer to that is up in the air while the National Mediation Board juggles dozens of cases where it has stepped in to negotiations between airlines and labor unions. Here is a road map of what we know:

When will American Airlines or any other U.S. airline go on strike?

Maybe never, maybe next month, maybe next year.
Why don't we know?

Labor relations in the airline industry, as in the railroad industry, are in the hands of the NMB. Only the NMB decides when an airline strike can occur.

What has to happen before that point?

First, an airline and union must negotiate. Then, absent an agreement, a federal mediator appointed by the NMB comes in to help out. The two sides settle everything they can. No deal? Typically, one side will ask the NMB to release the parties from mediation.

If the NMB decides that the two sides are at an impasse, it will proffer binding arbitration to handle the last few matters.

If one of the parties turns down the arbitration, the board would release both sides from mediation. That begins a 30-day cooling-off period. After that, "self-help" – legalese for strike or any other action that one side may take to pressure the other – can begin.

Where are American and its unions?

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants and Transport Workers Union have both asked to be released from mediation. The NMB will decide this week what to do with those requests.

The Allied Pilots Association has been negotiating longer with American, but talks have progressed relatively little.

Will the mediation board agree to the APFA and TWU requests?

We don't know. The NMB traditionally has been very reluctant to permit a strike.

This is the first time a board dominated by appointees of President Barack Obama has faced the question with a large carrier. Obama is perceived to be friendly to labor, but he hasn't faced the question of a large airline being shut down in a weak economy. The board could tell the two sides to keep talking.

What's the earliest date we could be looking at a strike?

Assuming that the NMB accedes to the union request – and we are by no means assuming that – it would be 30 days from mid-April. So sometime in the second half of May would be the earliest. But again, the NMB is very slow to take such action. Hawaiian Airlines pilots asked to be released in late October 2009; instead, the NMB kept the two sides at the table, and they reached an agreement in December without a strike.

Why is American Airlines the only carrier having labor issues?

It isn't. It just seems to be at the forefront. A number of major carriers have ongoing talks that haven't progressed as far.




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