‘Culture change’ at American too slow for some


Fort Worth Star-Telegram

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is sounding a little too discouraged about employee relations at his company.

“They still don’t trust us,” Parker said of American’s workers Tuesday in a presentation to investors and Wall Street analysts.

It’s been a little over two years since US Airways, which Parker ran, started its $11 billion merger with bankrupt American. The new airline kept the American name and installed Parker as its top executive.

Since the merger, the company has spent $4 billion on new aircraft, $3.5 billion on raising employee salaries and benefits, and $3 billion remodeling aircraft, airport lounges and customer services.

Still, Parker said Tuesday, “If we don’t have our employees engaged and excited about being at American Airlines, it’s all for waste.”

Waste is a harsh word.

True, Parker has some reason to be worried, but he and American’s employees should also look around at what they’ve accomplished. That includes going from bankruptcy to last year’s record $7.6 billion profit.

American’s relationships with its employee groups hit rock bottom before the merger. Those groups mostly supported US Airways and Parker in pushing for the merger.

But on Friday, the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American’s pilots, sent Parker a letter complaining about “the rebirth of the toxic culture we fought so hard to eradicate.”

The letter complained that the airline “routinely violates our contract” and “appears incapable of correctly paying our pilots.”

It even said “the new American Airlines product is outright embarrassing and we’re tired of apologizing to our passengers.”

The letter sought “real culture change” from American’s management, leaving “cut-throat and heartless” operating methods behind.

That’s an awful lot like what Parker said.

“It’s not their fault they don’t trust us,” he told the investors and analysts. “They don’t trust us because of what they’ve experienced. They haven’t experienced trustworthy things.”

It has to count for something with the pilots that the CEO is on their side. A list of illustrious CEOs in the past really weren’t.

And middle managers at American had best listen to the boss.

“The American team has lived in that old world of management-labor tension for so long, and changing this culture requires them to understand the industry is now a different place, and they have to get past that. We all have to get past it,” Parker said.

Change will come.