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Jeffrey Skiles (Sully's Co Pilot) Explains How Railway Labor Act Hamstrings Airline Workers

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cpamomfromtexas Donating Member (453 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-17-10 12:07 PM
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Jeffrey Skiles (Sully's Co Pilot) Explains How Railway Labor Act Hamstrings Airline Workers
Forward: There are many facets of The Railway Labor Act that favors management, one of which is contracts don't "expire", they become "amendable". The National Mediation Board, has to basically allow them to strike, so management is in no hurry to negotiate in good faith.

Jeffrey Skiles is the VP of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, a group of multiple unions.

Here in his words:

Very few - if any - airline pilots can speak to the destruction that the bankruptcy codes can wreak on an airline pilots career better than me, First Officer Jeff Skiles, Vice President of CAPA. At US Airways, Management took the employees through two trips to bankruptcy court within two years. The results: a total 38% to 58% reduction in wages AND the complete loss of all pilot pensions. I fell into the 58% reduction category.

Bankruptcy proceedings are a significant threat to any airline pilots future. Between the year 2000 and 2005, 24 airline carriers filed for bankruptcy, including 4 large legacy carriers. In 2005, more than half the nations passenger carrying capacity was in the hands of bankrupt carriers. Healthy airlines were forced to compete with carriers who ravaged their employees compensation and benefits. But more importantly to airline professionals, bankruptcy proceedings have destroyed tens of thousands of airline employee careers; and in doing so, devastated the airline pilot profession. It has driven qualified people from our flight decks, seriously inhibiting the industrys ability to attract the best and the brightest.

To understand and address the discriminatory treatment of airline employees in the bankruptcy context, we must divide all unionized labor into three groups. Railroad employees negotiating inside the Railway Labor Act (RLA), who fall under Bankruptcy Code 1167. All other unionized employees other than railroad and airline employees who negotiate under the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) and fall under Bankruptcy Code 1113. And airline employees, who are also covered under the Railway Labor Act, but due to an historical anomaly, DO NOT fall under Bankruptcy Code 1167.

For RLA railroad employees only, Bankruptcy Code Section 1167 provides that neither the court nor the trustee may change the wages or working conditions of employees. Pursuant to Bankruptcy Code Section 1167, any changes to railroad labor agreements are subject to the collective bargaining process mandated by Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act. In short both sides must agree to a negotiated settlement.

NLRA employees are subject to Bankruptcy code 1113. They can be subjected to a court imposed settlement, but have the ability and right to strike. Unlike RLA labor contracts that have only an amendable date, NLRA labor contracts have an expiration date. Of course, this right is not one that anyone is in a rush to exercise. It is fully understood that it may potentially damage both the employer and the employees. Nevertheless, it is the potential for exercising the right to strike that allows a union to temper the consequences of what is otherwise a very one-sided bankruptcy process.

It would of course be presumed that, having been denied the RLA benefits of 1167, airline employees would at least have the same right to use the potential threat of strike to moderate the effects of the Bankruptcy Codes section 1113 process when that process is used to reject a collective bargaining agreement. However, the fact is ONLY airline employees are subject to the coercive 1113 process without any recourse, without the right to strike. Thus, airline employees -- and only airline employees -- can be stripped of their contractual entitlements with impunity.

At CAPA we feel that airline labor is no different than railway labor and should be protected with no less vigor. In todays modern world, airline transportation is essential to our nations economy. Since airline labor contracts never expire, there is no logical reason why airline labor is excluded from the protections in bankruptcy that railway labor contracts enjoy. Airline contracts need to be given these same protections. All airline employees whether, working for financially sound or troubled carriers, are affected by bankruptcy code application.
We point out that it is not the bankruptcy laws in of themselves that has created havoc; there are obviously sound reasons for corporate bankruptcy laws. It is the discriminatory application of the bankruptcy law that creates the issue.

Creative manipulation of the NMB process inside the RLA by management has destroyed critical professions in an essential industry. Government must recognize that in order to promote airline safety, qualified professionals must be attracted to the airline industry. Revising arcane regulations and bankruptcy code applications must be the start of the process to rebuild aviation careers and the aviation industry.

Jeff Skiles

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ParkieDem Donating Member (417 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-25-10 05:24 PM
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1. Good points here.
I'm an active follower of the airline industry, and there definitely needs to be some changes in the bankruptcy process. Carriers like Delta, USAirways and United filed bankruptcy and were able to stick it to their union employees with unilateral reductions in pay, benefits, etc. Then, carriers like American, Southwest and Continental, who avoided bankruptcy and kept their employees' pensions intact, have to compete with these airlines with a relatively inflated cost structure.

Right now, we are starting to hear grumblings from AMR employee groups about upcoming contract negotiations. Even though the employees have endured pay cuts, management has one overarching argument: the pay, pension and benefit packages of AMR employees are head and shoulders above those at other airlines. AMR's unions make a good argument about management being greedy, but their main beef should be with the bankruptcy rules that allowed AA's competitors to shed so many of their employee obligations. In the competitive marketplace, AA is getting hurt for doing the right thing.
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