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American Airlines, TWU, and PBGC a Perfect Microcosmic Example


Amidst 13,000 layoffs, pension pulverization, chapter 11 protection, and CEO bonuses, AMR spokesmen claim decisions are for their recovery… and perhaps a $13B aircraft purchase (which would be the largest ever).
Maybe it was respecting their ties to American workers for too long while competitors rushed to outsource their aircraft maintenance to places such as Chinese based Taeco, where unlicensed, unmonitored mechanics can't read the manuals and forget screws.  Yes, perhaps it was mismanagement but more likely, it was carefully calculated management (by experts with $100 million salaries) to rape and pillage every possible penny from its faithful passengers (no longer with packets of peanuts), pilots (facing job outsourcing by code-sharing and by contract evading with smaller planes using different regulations and pay scale), mechanics (working overtime due to 30% pay cuts, layoffs and reduced vacation from 2003), flight attendants (who still keep a smile everyday), ground crew (in the greatest risk of job loss as decisions to mechanize and reduce safety requirements loom) and investors (somehow still faithful after more than a decade of degradation and deficits). 
The executives are well aware of the impact of cutting $2B annually in labor costs, encouraging union reps to distribute stress coping pamphlets. 15-20% of American Airlines' 88,000 employees are expected to be laid off.  The layoffs will be done by seniority.  As such, since American hasn't been hiring for quite a while, many multi-decade dedicates with specialized skills will be left to find fresh wages in a crumbling job market. The sad truth is that these hard working (drug-free) specialists will most likely be unable to find substantial work.  Ninety-nine weeks later, it is likely that you will find several of the laid off employees have given up hope and have found an unknown comfort in soft hands and couches. This is a major setback in the contract negotiations that have been underway for years, though I personally know the unions have not given up all hope. 
The TWU, a long standing union established during the Great Depression, is working meticulously to combat this repression. The action plan in response to AMR's restructuring is as follows:
• Members mobilization, communication and outreach to business communities
• Political and civic leader involvement, both locally and nationally
• External national media communications plan
• Nationally recognized legal counsel specialized in 1113 airline bankruptcy
• A team of leading labor attorneys
• Expert economists and financial advisers to review AMR's balance sheet (1)
Along with the TWU,  the Allied Pilots Association and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants are doing all they can to represent their members. AMR is trying to pin some of the blame on the unions for the drawn-out negotiations that have been in process for nearly a decade. The TWU should have the front seat in accusations, with subtle actions such as the transition of former Vice-President of Line Maintenance, Danny Martinez, to AAR's General Manager of Aircraft Services. I ask where might the extra work be outsourced with all these cutbacks?  In a recent interview on Fox, Peter Kaufmann, a representative of the TWU-hired investment banking firm, Gordian Group, defends the TWU by stating, “This is a microcosm of what's happening in America, the middle class is playing by the rules and they are getting run over.” (3)
Along with Kaufmann, big names are fighting on both sides.  Josh Gotbaum, director of PBGC, “issued a pointed press release warning AA that his agency will not make life easy for AA executives planning to trash the airline’s benefits program.”(2) The PBGC is a government agency designed to protect the pension benefits for 44 million Americans in 27,500 private sector pension plans. If American Airlines were able to prove it would be unable to reorganize if the pensions continue, than the PBGC will bear the burden of $9 billion -the largest PBGC bailout ever- along with 1.5 million other failed pension plans. PBGC is only able to cover basic pension plans and many of the additional benefits will be lost, including retiree health benefits. Through bankruptcy proceedings, American Airlines had already shortchanged their pension plan last month by $90.5M (from $97M down to $6.5M).  BUT Gotbaum had their back, immediately putting leans on that amount mostly from AMR's Latin American funds, which are not at all a part of the bankruptcy proceedings. In the other corner AMR has hired Mitt Romney's old company, Bain & Company, to iron out their dirty work for $14M a month! Bain & Company has no real purpose other than to “cut labor costs” and destroy all the work that the unions have labored over for years, inevitably trashing AMR's finances even more. 
Union busting has been the name of the game, since unions were secretly snuffed during the Industrial Revolution, to Ludlow and the Haymarket Riot. Especially when it comes to transportation, the veins of our infrastructure, through the Great Railroad Strikes and the Palmer Raids of the Red Scare, have put a taboo on the term "proletariat".  Even today, the recently passed openly anti-union FAA bill, with such controversial provisions as counting anyone who did not vote in a union election as someone who voted against it, has made new union organization nearly impossible.  Busting, which once was a covert attack, has now become a mainstream market strategy. This has slowly become reality with the liberalization of unions from (often aggressive) political advocates to concessionists who are grateful to keep the noose holding their heads above water. My apologies for the negative imagery;  Unions have definitely had success in the recent years whilst facing their inevitable destruction.  Howbeit, destruction of unions is inevitable, as our debt is collapsing on top of us it will be impossible to provide livable wages or benefits, let alone a pension. As this devastation perpetuates, so will the disenfranchisement of unionists, the unemployed, and the marginalized. So similar it is to the disenfranchisement of our occupiers whom the TWU has endorsed, facing evictions and cold cigarette fingertips, the only difference is the general recognition of the systemic nature of this issue. 
This ominous occurrence is unsettling for us victims, but to an outsider it provides a prime example of the endemic labor system in which we all drudge. And drudge we all do, some may say 99% of us.  However, I like to think holistically, since we all put our feet on the floor and perpetuate the destruction of our basic social necessities when the sunlight peaks through the window crack. Perhaps when a majority of the employees of what was once the world's largest airline become “AMR martyrs”, a rank and file regulated union reaction will no longer be exercised from the mass of union sympathizers pinned beneath the iron heel.
Sources / Cited:
(1) " AE Bankruptcy Update|." TWU AA/AE Bankruptcy Information HOME. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://aa.twu.org/home/tabid/1494/ctl/detail/mid/3063/itemid/295/ae- bankruptcy-update—02-03-2012.aspx>.
"Air France Suspends Maintenance in China." World Civil Aviation Resource Net, News, Airlines and Airports, China Flight Schedule. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://www.wcarn.com/cache/news/16/16867.html>.
(2)"Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Director Warns AA about Abandoning Employee Pension Programs." Consumer Travel Alliance — the Voice for Consumers in Travel. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://consumertravelalliance.org/2011/12/19/pension-benefit- guaranty-corporation-director-warns-aa-about-abandoning-employee-pension- programs/>.
(3)"Recent Bankruptcies Just the Beginning?" Fox Business Video – Fox Business. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/1430011271001/>.
"Senate Passes FAA Bill With Anti-Union Measure." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/senate-passes-faa-bill_n_1258430.html>.

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