American Airlines pilots picketed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport Monday to protest recent pay and benefit cuts as well as squash accusations that pilots are behind the recent surge in flight cancellations and delays. The Allied Pilots Association began picketing at major domestic airports in mid-September in lieu of a strike, which they are legally banned from holding under the Railway Labor Act.
The pilots are calling for contractual terms that are on par with other major airlines and are unanimously in support of a merger with US Airways with whom they’ve drawn up a sample contract. Despite their frustrations, the pilots claim there is no organized effort causing the delays.
“There is no sick out. The union does not condone it.” said Captain John S. Diacsuk, an American Airlines pilot who has flown for the airline for over 23 years. Captain Diacsuk persists that the number of sick calls have remained the same. The chart created by the APA shows that 7.46 percent of the workforce is currently on the sick list, which although nearly three percent higher than this time last year is only slightly increased from earlier this summer.
The pilots blame deferred maintenance issues on the oldest fleet in the nation and understaffing for the delays. A spokesman from American Airlines has agreed that maintenance issues are the core cause of the delays.
Just this weekend, a flight from Boston to Miami was forced into an emergency landing at New York’s JFK airport when a row of seats became unbolted during flight Saturday night. A second incident occurred Monday evening prompting American to ground eight planes as it further investigates the cause of the safety issues.
The FAA replied to an inquiry into the cause of the maintaince issue by simply saying, “Preliminary information indicates that a row of three seats in the coach cabin apparently became loose. Three passengers were accommodated in other seats before the aircraft landed safely at JFK.”
The FAA also announced in August that it is seeking up to $162 million in fines for safety violations and has placed American under close scrutiny following its declaration of bankruptcy last November.
Of the nearly 200 members of the union that marched throughout the upper-level departure area of LaGuardia’s main terminal today, several repeated the phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” They are referring to the concessions pilots made in 2003 when the management asked them to give up certain benefits to help the airline thrive in the long run. Nearly a decade later, the pilots feel demoralized and regret having trusted their management.
In response to the series of demonstrations, American Airlines replied to Skift, “We respect the right of our unions and their members to voice their opinions…our goal remains to reach a consensual agreement with our pilots. We are resolute in our efforts to put American Airlines in a position to win and create new opportunities and a brighter future for our people.”
Although the pilots affirmed that they don’t want to strike, the majority planned to vote yes in an internal strike ballot this week and believed a strike would ultimately lead to fair contract terms.