Allied Pilots Association president Keith Wilson has been on the job a little over two weeks and on Thursday he faced the media for the first time, talking about the possible rejection of the pilots contract by a bankruptcy judge and how American Airlines has halted negotiations with the union since August 15.
During an hour-long session with reporters, Wilson said he met with AMR chief executive Tom Horton last week to discuss the union's concerns and willingness to try to reach a new contract with American while the carrier is in bankruptcy.
He also said he met with US Airways chief executive Doug Parker and president Scott Kirby, who have publicly stated they may launch a possible takeover bid of AMR. However, he confirmed that US Airways stopped talking with the APA on Monday as he assumed the Tempe-based carrier may be close to signing a non-disclosure agreement with AMR that would prohibit US Airways from directly negotiating with American labor unions while the two carriers shared financial information prior to a possible deal.
Here's a few tidbits from Wilson's media interview.
Excerpts from Wilson's opening statement
"The main thing we’re trying to do is to ensure the professional value and that our skills are appropriately compensate and valued by our employer. That’s our main goal is to ensure the quality of work life and the profession as we know it. I stepped up basically for that reason…
"The union and the pilots believe that we are all in search of a consensual deal with American Airlines, there are issues that we have, the pilots want recognized, American has their issues and we’ll explore trying to find a mutually satisfying solution to both sides. It’s in our best interest it’s in the management’s best interest. It’s in the shareholders or stakeholders, not the shareholders right now, the stakeholders of the corporation that a consensual, mutual agreement is signed by the pilot force prior to exiting bankruptcy. We do not believe that the corporation can successfully exit bankruptcy while they might be able to exit bankruptcy without a contract, we do not believe it will be a successful exit because we will be back under the railway labor act and the uncertainty of that probably doesn’t bode well for investor confidence going forward…
"To reach a consensual agreement I think it’s important that management values the training and the services and skills that we provide to the corporation. And as evidenced by the value put on United and Delta and Southwest and other major carriers that we compete against. And on that same vein one of the issues that we believe as an association and as pilots in general, size does matter in the aviation business and a consolidated airline coming out of bankruptcy will be much stronger and much more highly competitive with the two major carriers that are left standing outside of us with United and Delta flying international."
Can you get a deal with the current AMR management?
"I do believe that we can reach an agreement, I won’t put a number on that. I think we need to reach an agreement. I think the company needs to start to understand value versus pricing and the value of what we bring to the corporation in our training and our skills. And if they look outside, they’ll see that other corporations when they do value that get an intangible return in the product that the pilots and the flight attendants and the TWU mechanics and ground people give the corporation. You can look no further than across town to Southwest and how that culture breeds a very good product."
Why do you want to conduct a strike vote?
"The strike vote is one of our legal mechanisms and I look at it, the strike vote will tell the world and tell the corporation exactly where the pilots’ mentality is. That we are unified and steadfast in our belief and it’s a vote. The board of directors and we will not strike unless we’re legally allowed to strike. I’ll make that perfectly clear. The association will do and investigate all legal avenues that we have available. One of those legal avenues is the ability to maybe help influence consolidation through whatever airline."
How would you describe your leadership style?
"My method is one of, as my mother says, you’re always the prototypical middle child. I’m always trying to find solutions to things. So I will try to hear both sides of the argument. Our argument is what we’re passionate about which is the value and respect for the skills and experience we bring to the corporation. I understand on the outside that external factors always influence corporations so things have to be adjusted….I think the path is one of trying to listen and from my standpoint to look at the arguments from a logical, objective thought and develop a consensus. We believe the corporation has not been fully engaged up until recently. And whether they are still engaged now because they have the avenue of the 1113, they haven’t reengaged us after the 15th of August…So it’s going to take both sides to have the ability to look at each others argument and try to figure out some common ground. So that’s what I’m hoping to do."
Why do you believe that if the judge rejects your contract that American should implement the last-best-final-offer and not the term sheets filed with the court earlier this year?
"The issue is what do they need to successfully reorganize. And they’ve proven through the negotiation that they were willing, therefore their needs were met, by the terms under the LBFO, the last best final offer. So our position, and I think rightfully so, from a union position, if that’s all you needed and I use this term with my daughter, there’s a difference between a need and a want. And there’s a need that the corporation might have and we recognize some of that and we’re willing to talk about those. The wants are something that we believe border on punitive....We understand there are needs in every negotiation, we have our needs. And we have wants and I understand there’s a difference. And we have to understand where each side is coming from. We can’t impose our wants upon the corporation. They can and that’s where the perception would be one of punitive."
Do you believe that American can emerge from bankruptcy successfully?
"I think this company will come out as a viable and vibrant company. We hope that the corporation sees that bigger is better in this environment, that to have three major network airlines surviving, we’d like to be one of those survivors. I think that’s important. They’re the management team of the corporation and they’ll make those decisions and hopefully we can reach a consensual agreement and we can then look forward to working with the management of the corporation at that time to ensure it’s a viable and vibrant corporation. Again, the pilots of this association are married to this corporation for the rest of our careers, without question."