Where do we go from here?
Storm Clouds over AA
Most of you know that I work for American Airlines in Tulsa. AA applied for bankruptcy protection on November 29, 2011. While my job is secure - for now - what the future may bring is more problematic.
My union, the Transport Workers Union, has been in contract negotiations with AA for about five years. Airlines are governed by the Railway Labor Act in order to avoid service disruptions during negotiations. Basically, it prevents the unions from walking off the job and it prevents the companies from locking them out. And that introduces a far greater problem. There's no incentive for an airline to come to an agreement since the union cannot strike and the National Labor Relations Board hasn't released a union to do so since before the Clinton administration.
We had our last 'negotiation' with AA in 2003. The company offered terms and flatly stated that we could accept them or they'd declare bankruptcy. It was like having a mugger hold a gun to your head and call it a negotiation. I took a pay cut that totaled about 20%, lost vacation days and holidays, had reduced sick time, and more. My family took a direct hit that severely impacted our finances. As soon as it was over, AA management began awarding themselves annual bonuses even as the company lost money. That was salt in the wound. Looking back, the real heyday of CycleDog was when I was riding to work regularly in order to save money. Well, that, and trying to lose a ginormous belly.
Presently, we're engaged in voting on a 'consensual' agreement that is only marginally better than the terms AA laid out before the bankruptcy judge. One co-worker aptly described it is as the difference between a sh!t sandwich and a sh!t sandwich with mustard. While it doesn't involve direct pay cuts, the increased amount we pay for medical insurance will have the same effect, and the meager pay increases of 1.5% will very likely be offset by medical costs as well. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of AA workers will lose their jobs.
There's a lot of anger and frustration here driving people toward voting against this contract proposal. I fully understand that, and in my darker moments, I can even embrace it. But I have to protect my family as best I can. I'll probably vote to accept this POS.
Even with this, it's not over. The company may offer an early out incentive that initially appears tempting. Qualified employees may receive about $40K to leave. They'd give up all seniority and recall rights. But here's the kicker - AA is trying to get rid of retiree medical benefits too. I've been pre-funding that since I hired in back in 1987. It was supposed to cover the time between retirement and my eventual Medicare, but if it's removed, I simply cannot afford to retire early and pay for medical coverage too. It would be the equivalent of a 75% pay cut, and that's not enough to live on right now.
So if the job doesn't go away, I may turn into one of those old farts we describe as retired-in-place. Don't misunderstand me. I actually like my job and I'm very good at it, but it's the rest of the BS that goes along with it that is really annoying. Who knows? I may be back on the bike riding to work again in the near future.