Sky Talk

Five questions with pilots union president Keith Wilson

Allied Pilots Association president Keith Wilson does not plan to run for re-election and will step down when his term ends on July 1. (Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall)
Allied Pilots Association president Keith Wilson does not plan to run for re-election and will step down when his term ends on July 1. (Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall) Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall

American Airlines and its pilots union have spent the week talking about contract implementation issues and the unsettled culture at the Fort Worth-based carrier.

The Star-Telegram sat down with Allied Pilots Association president Keith Wilson on Thursday to talk about contract concerns, profit-sharing, and why he’s not running for re-election this spring.

ST: What are the main contract issues that pilots are concerned about?

Wilson: The issues that are a concern to the pilots is, we have two main ones, and one follow on one. There are contractual and legal non-compliance issues that we feel need to be addressed to Mr. Parker and the second one is contract implementation. We are basically running under four contracts. We’re running under the contract we signed effective January 1, 2013. We’re running under the JCBA contract of January 2015 and we’re running under the US Air east and the US Airways-America West contracts. Those four contracts. And because of those there are noncompliance with how schedulers and other managers deal with the pilot group that it’s confusing, and our pilots are getting frustrated with that issue. A lot of those could be settled. We have a lot of unimplemented items. Some of those items are tied to major systems that are coming online in the next few months, the preferential bidding system and the single FOS, bringing all the pilots on to one operations system called Flight Ops System. But there are at least, approximately 19 to 20 items, that are not tied to any of those areas in our opinion. And those we believe could be implemented in short order. That would solve some of our concerns because we’re worried, we’re concerned more than worried, that if they are not addressed now, when these big issues come online they will take up the center of focus and a year from now we’ll still be left with some unimplemented items.

ST: How did American CEO Doug Parker respond to your concerns at your meeting with him on Monday?

Wilson: We have to see how they address our concerns. I have meetings with them. We have given them the 19 to 20 items now of concern and they’re reviewing them and we’re supposed to have a meeting [Friday] to address how they perceive they should go forward with these. We believe that they could address these in a timely matter by scheduling meetings in the next week and the week after to address through their subject matter experts those areas of concern and we believe some of those items could be implemented in a very short order before the end of April, the 15th of April. We’re going to do a review of where we stand. We want a path. We’re trying to develop that path with the company to address these concerns and then the board will be briefed on the progress of that.

ST: The pilots union has described the culture as “toxic” at American. How would you describe it?

Wilson: I think the culture is what it is right now. They are trying to focus on those issues but we all have to understand that we all come from different experiences. We have four pilot groups, if not five or six, from all the different airlines that have been brought together to form this entity known as American Airlines, just like they come from all different backgrounds. They have the Northwest, the USAir east, the America West and the American history behind them. They have experiences with labor and they have experiences with individuals and they build their work ethic based on that. We have the same problems. We have a diverse pilot group of American Airlines, US Airways east, US Airways west from America West, TWA, AirCal, Reno. They are all groups of pilots who bring with them the experiences they have. That is the issue we’d like to address, but the first thing before we can even address a culture issue is we need to show that the culture issue is dependent upon a contract. A contract is where the value that the company subscribes to us. That is the value we’ve negotiated and that’s what we want implemented, and when we get that implemented, that is the basis for then developing where we go with the culture. And we do want to develop a culture that is collaborative that the pilots are valued and develop a collaborative partnership to make this airline the best airline in the world...

As to the culture at American Airlines, we’re taking Mr. Parker and the leadership team at their words. They come out with the ALC, the annual leadership conference and they talk about this culture, bringing the employees and treating the employees in a very respectful way so we want to engage that. We want to find a path and we’re wiling to work in a collaborative, partnered and valued effort. The pilots should be valued in this. We believe we are front-line employees that have an impact on both the product and workforce at American Airlines.

ST: Do you believe that pilots should have a profit-sharing plan?

Wilson: I believe that pilots, we’ll talk about the pilots only, if the company wants to compete with the best carriers in the world, the employees should have skin in the game as we call it, a stake in the value of the product that is produced. We are paid as we do through the contract, but if you look at where the airlines who are the best, that are always ranked high, the Deltas, the Southwests, the Alaskas, they all have one thing that’s in common. They pay their people well. They treat them well, and that’s what we’re trying to get with American. But they also have profit-sharing because if you increase the value of the product and then you have the customers have a premium for that product and that comes through the goodwill and the hard work of the employees. I believe they should be compensated and profit-sharing is one of the best vehicles for that.

ST: Why are you not running for reelection as president of APA?

Wilson: I’m not running as president because it’s been four years. I ran in 2010 and didn’t win. I then was brought down in 2012 and I did win in 2013. It’s been four years. It’s been four years of working through the bankruptcy and then the merger and now the integration and the implementation of the contract. There is still a lot of work to do. But I’m turning 61 in a week and I’ve got just under four years left as a pilot and it’s time for some of the younger men, and I’ve told the new hires this, that you’re the future of APA and this airline and it’s time for me to go back to the line flying my last three-and-a-half years and enjoy what I love to do before which is to fly airplanes. My wife also made a lot of sacrifices to come down and help me with this job so now it’s time to focus on her and our personal life and return to line flying.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk