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Reply #11: The infamous "B- Scale" of American Airlines & the UAL pilots' strike of 1985 [View All]

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DemoTex Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Nov-29-10 11:19 AM
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11. The infamous "B- Scale" of American Airlines & the UAL pilots' strike of 1985
Edited on Mon Nov-29-10 11:20 AM by DemoTex
The war at American Airlines started back in 1983, when a growth imperative gripped major airlines as they raced to compete with low-fare startups. American CEO Robert Crandall convinced the pilots that the airline couldn't buy planes to add routes unless new pilots could be hired at drastically reduced pay scales. It seemed like another brilliant Crandall win-win at the time. The pilots who were then at American got to keep their pay, and the new planes offered them opportunities to move more quickly from co-pilot to captain status. Meanwhile, with each new cut-rate pilot, Crandall lowered his average labor costs, all the better to finance the debt incurred in buying the new jets.

Several years later, however, this move came back to haunt him. The pilots hired at what came to be known as the "b-scales" developed a sort of inferiority complex. "All of a sudden, there was a whole group of people working there who were extremely resentful of the fact that the person sitting next to them was making a lot more money for exactly the same job," says Larry Crawford, president of Avitas, an aviation consulting firm in Reston, Virginia. "They began to wonder what kind of scheme was coming at them next." It might seem strange, given that many of their jobs might not have even been created without the b-scales, but they still resented their status as second-class citizens.

On May 17, 1985, United's pilots went on a 29-day strike claiming the CEO, Richard Ferris, was trying to "break the unions." They used management's proposed "B-scale" pilot pay rates as proof. American Airlines already had a non-merging B-scale for its pilots. Ferris insisted United had to have pilot costs no higher than American's, so he offered United pilots a "word-for-word" contract to match American's, or the same bottom line numbers. The United ALPA-MEC rejected that offer. The only choice left, to achieve parity with American's pilot costs, was to begin a B-scale for United's new-hire pilots.

Ferris wanted that B-scale to merge in the captain's ranks, which was more generous than American's B-scale, that never merged at all. But, the ALPA MEC insisted they merge in the new pilot's sixth-year with the airline. In the final hours before the strike, nearly all issues had been resolved, except for the time length of the B-scale. It appeared that would be resolved too as negotiations continued. ALPA negotiators delivered a new counter-proposal at 12:20 a.m. in an effort to avoid the strike. However, MEC Chairman Roger Hall, who was hosting a national teleconference from the Odeum (a convention center in the Chicago suburbs) with F. Lee Bailey, declared the strike was on at 12:01 a.m., on May 17, without further consulting the negotiators, some of whom believed they could find agreement on all contract terms, if the negotiations were allowed to continue. Moments before the ALPA announced strike deadline, they began a "countdown of the final 30 seconds from Chicago" (the Odeum teleconference). Doing that made it impossible to extend the strike deadline, so that the final issues could be resolved without a strike.

The American Airlines pilots - a greedy bunch back then - caved to Robert Crandall and allowed the non-merging B-Scale for new-hire pilots. That was the Pandora's Box for most other US airlines. The UAL pilots had the courage to stand up (AKA: strike) to the B-Scale, and reduce its effects on their lives and those of many, many other airline pilots at other airlines.

Disregarding the warnings of Hosea 8-7, American CEO Crandall sowed the wind with his ill-conceived B-Scale and then, for over 20 years, reaped the whirlwind of hostile labor relations with the American Airlines pilots' union (APA).
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