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As the directly elected representative of flight attendants throughout the American Airlines system, I answer to more than 16,000 members and, by extension, their families. The job became significantly more complicated and demanding when American filed for Ch. 11 in late November 2011. Although this bankruptcy was more or less a foregone conclusion given the way American had been run for the ten plus years leading up to the filing, the subsequent wild ride APFA and the other unions on the property have taken has been completely unpredictable.
As a member of the bankruptcy’s unsecured creditors’ committee, I’ve been in the room since day one - on behalf of APFA and all AA employees - and the most vocal and unwavering supporter of the US Airways merger since its inception.
It’s not enough to say you’re in favor of something as big as this merger, however. You’ve got to do the work. And the work is not yet finished. While it has required an enormous amount of time, conviction and energy, I am confident that it will soon pay off.
I receive numerous questions on my flights, in operations, via social media and through calls and emails from many of you. So I sat down with APFA Communications to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
Question: Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit to block the merger. Is the merger still going to happen?
LG: Yes. Short answer – yes. I’m still very confident that the merger will happen. The antitrust lawsuit filed by the Justice Department and a few attorneys general is an inconvenience and it will certainly postpone the merger, which is frustrating, but it won’t kill it. The DOJ got it wrong, plain and simple. Now it’s up to the companies – which are both totally committed to the merger – to prove it. Fortunately, most of the hard work is already done: over the past year and a half we’ve built a strong case for this merger. Everyone – Wall Street, American’s creditors, Congress, American management, and the flying public – everyone agrees that the merger is necessary. Now we just have to convince the judge hearing the antitrust case. It’s a challenge but by no means the biggest one we’ve faced in this bankruptcy. We’ll get past it.
Question: What can I do to help fight the DOJ?
LG: We all need to keep up the vocal public support of the merger. The DOJ and the attorneys general from Texas, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC, Arizona, and – I’m missing one – Tennessee, that’s it, they need to know that they have got this wrong. Consumers are going to benefit from the merger because a competitive American Airlines gives them a third viable option. The industry will benefit because there will no longer be the Delta/United duopoly controlling everything. Last but not least, 100,000 employees stand to gain job security and decent wages when the merger goes through. We’ve been waiting a long time for American to be competitive again. The merger needs to be approved because American needs to be allowed to compete.
We’ll be calling Flight Attendants to action soon. We want to make sure these attorneys general and Congress know what a mistake the government is making. Flight Attendants will be asked to write and call these people in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, there’s a petition on the White House website that people can sign. If we get to 100,000 signatures we will get an official response from the Oval Office.
Question: When will we get rid of the LBFO and get a new contract?
LG: Immediately upon emerging from bankruptcy our LBFO will go away and the Bridge Agreement or Conditional Labor Agreement (CLA) will take its place. We thought that would be in early September but the DOJ’s case has thrown a wrench into that. Soon after the antitrust case is resolved, though, we’ll be emerging from bankruptcy and working under the CLA. Then the CLA will stay in effect until we can negotiate a Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement (JCBA) which is what we’re calling the long-term contract for the combined Flight Attendant group at the new American.
Although the CLA is a big improvement over the LBFO but it’s not the contract that we have been waiting so long for and that we deserve – not by a long shot. That’s why APFA agreed to binding arbitration following the merger. If we can’t get a contract during expedited negotiations, a panel of arbitrators will determine the fair value of a contract for Flight Attendants with the largest air line in the industry. No other labor group has ever come out of bankruptcy with a path to an industry contract. I think we’re all looking forward to tearing up the bankruptcy contracts.
Question: What’s the baseline for negotiations after the merger?
LG: Great question and one there’s been a lot of bad information out there about. We’re going to do a page-turn before going into negotiations and start with the best from both our contract and the contract US Airways’ Flight Attendants just ratified. In the aggregate, our contract is of course more valuable, but there’s language in both agreements that we’d like to keep. If we can't reach an agreement in expedited bargaining, the arbitrators will look at our proposal and consider how Flight Attendants at Delta and United are compensated, and determine what’s fair.
Question: United is still in negotiations. What if they get a new contract right after we do?
LG: Another good question and a situation we have considered. If the United contract isn’t finished until after ours, we will get an adjustment to reflect a change in the industry. If United gets an increase, our contract will be modified to reflect an increase in the aggregate cost of the contract.
Question: How long will it take to get a new contract? How long will we be in negotiations following the merger?
LG: We will get a new contract very quickly after the merger is completed. Past mergers have taught us that it can take a long, long time to integrate a workforce under one fair contract. Look at US Airways: Flight Attendants worked under two separate agreements for 8 years. Like I said, Continental and United are STILL in negotiations. Look, in this industry, contract negotiations take a long time. We know it firsthand. Management has the ability to slow-walk negotiations and it always – ALWAYS – works to their benefit. That’s the beauty of our process. Our CLA calls for expedited negotiations and, if necessary, binding arbitration. Binding arbitration will force a new contract and take away the company’s ability to draw-out negotiations for years and years.
Question: How will the seniority lists be integrated?
LG: Our seniority lists will be integrated based on date of occupational seniority (which is called "date of hire" at US Airways). The only adjustment will be to ensure that American Flight Attendants get credit for initial training – as US Airways Flight Attendants do. APFA has done an enormous amount of research to determine the average number of days American Airlines Flight Attendants spent in training. We will be coming up with a number of days to adjust the seniority of American Flight Attendants to put them on an even footing with US Airways Flight Attendants. No changes will be made to APFA members’ seniority in relation to each other - what is referred to as 'relative seniority.'
Question: What about representation?
LG: APFA and AFA-CWA are working on an agreement that will put Flight Attendants first. We’re fully committed to an arrangement that will strengthen our strategic partnership, make the transition smooth for US Airways Flight Attendants, and maintain APFA’s independence.
Question: When will we be flying with mixed crews? When will our workgroups be completely merged?
LG: Only after the FAA issues a single operating certificate to the new American will our workgroups be totally integrated. This could take as long as 18 months after American emerges from bankruptcy. Until then, we will continue to operate as separate carriers.
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AmericanAirlines + US Airways
"On Our Way"
APFA National Communications Coordinator