As a 25-year flight attendant for American Airlines, Jerry Casas thought the latest contract proposal, turned down by union members, would have given the company more concessions while the Fort Worth-based airline is posting record profits.
“There were too many gaps, too many to-be-determineds in the contract,” said Casas, who works international flights out of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. “It was a big block of Swiss cheese.”
About 100 flight attendants gathered outside a union board meeting Wednesday at the Hilton DFW Lakes in Grapevine to express their dissatisfaction with leaders of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants less than two weeks after the proposed contract was rejected by a mere 16 votes. Talks on a new contract to cover employees from both American and US Airways will now move to arbitration.
Holding signs that said, “We voted for a world-class airline,” the flight attendants greeted American CEO Doug Parker and President Scott Kirby as they entered the hotel to attend the meeting. Parker spoke briefly to the group after he met with the union board.
“We were disappointed that we didn’t get the [tentative agreement] passed,” Parker told the flight attendants. “My personal view is a lot of this was a lot of history that we walked into that I understand and the result is not as much trust as we would like to have at this point between management and our employees.”
The contract that was rejected included pay raises and a minimum work requirement of 480 hours per year.
Nancy Sperry, a DFW flight attendant who has worked for American for just over a year, said she was concerned about the work rules.
“It’s important to be a part of a workforce that is compensated fairly for its efforts. The pay that was talked about is not evenly distributed,” said Sperry, who is currently flying on reserve. “But this isn’t about money. It’s about work rules and being valued as an employee. We are an integral part of the face of the new American.”
Most of the work rules in the proposed contract are in place for US Airways flight attendants, so that was not an issue for Philadelphia-based flight attendant Karen Bettin. She said she hopes a joint contract for the flight attendants includes better 401(k) and health insurance options.
“We’re at a point where we really need to stand united, all 24,000 of us, whether you voted yes or no on the contract,”’ said Bettin, who attended the meeting.
As a US Airways flight attendant, she also has a profit-sharing plan, which was not in the proposed contract. American flight attendants used to have profit sharing, but it was negotiated out of the current contract and some have wanted to add it back. Bettin says she would rather have fixed pay raises now, adding that profit sharing should be treated like a bonus instead of part of the total compensation package in a contract.
Parker and Kirby met with union leaders for about an hour and a half and talked about arbitration, which is set to begin Dec. 3. Both union and company have said the contract determined by the arbitration panel will likely be worth $82 million less in wages and benefits than the contract that was rejected.
“What we learned in this process is that there is still a trust issue between what management says and what the employees believe and you don’t build trust by not doing what you said you were going to do … so we’re moving forward with arbitration,” Parker said, adding that another flight attendant vote is unlikely because that is not part of the arbitration process.
Union spokeswoman Leslie Mayo said the meeting focused on preparing for arbitration, and she welcomed members who wanted to express their opinions on the contract vote to the board.
“The contract that will be awarded according to the agreement is ‘market-based in the aggregate,’ ” Mayo said. “I have to say it’s so great to see so many flight attendants at a meeting.”