American Eagle

By John Perkinson, ALPA Communications Specialist
Air Line Pilot, February 2004, p.17

The facts cannot be avoided: The experience of American Eagle pilots has been fraught with conflict and challenge throughout their carrier’s existence. Pilots of the largest express-level airline in the United States have wrestled with ongoing management exploitation of their contract and other manipulations, in addition to scope and flow-through disputes with the pilots’ counterparts at American Airlines.

Labor conflicts of this kind are usually associated with financial hardships, and AMR, Inc., parent company of both Eagle and American, has considered Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Yet despite the Eagle operation’s continued problems, it curiously thrives in this otherwise contentious environment.

Eagle Pilots at a Glance

Pilots: 2,400+ domiciled in Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Juan.

Operations: 1,300+ flights daily to 130+ destinations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Bahamas; point-to-point service; feeder service for American Airlines.

Company Headquarters: Ft. Worth, Tex.

Equipment: 253 airplanes, including 169 jets.

Fleet Makeup: Saab 340s; ATR 42s; Super ATRs; Embraer135s, 140s, and 145s; CRJ 700s.

Although American Eagle’s roots with Metro Airlines lie in the mid-1980s, the beginning of today’s airline is generally associated with the single-carrier petition that the pilots of Executive Air, Flagship, Simmons, and Wings West filed in 1995.

The pilots of these four wholly owned subsidiaries had tired of AMR’s whipsawing tactics. Time and time again, AMR had pitted the four pilot groups against one another to drive down labor costs. In several noteworthy instances, AMR management shrank a carrier during labor negotiations to pressure pilots to meet management demands.

The National Mediation Board agreed with the pilots that the four airlines constituted a "single transportation system for Railway Labor Act purposes," and ALPA, which previously represented Simmons pilots, was elected to become the collective bargaining agent for all four carriers.

However, Eagle management was not legally bound to negotiate a single contract or to merge the four seniority lists. The two parties negotiated, with management eventually agreeing to the union’s consolidation demands but pressing for a 25-year contract. Labor and management settled with a proposal for a 16-year framework ending in 2013 and allowing for several expedited amendment rounds. Following an initial rejection and some minor changes, the Eagle members ratified the contract by a significant margin.

Three years later, the Eagle pilots’ Negotiating Committee bargained improvements in the first amendment round, but the members rejected that proposed agreement. In accordance with the framework’s provisions, the contract amendments were established through interest arbitration.

However, this lengthy agreement continues to be controversial and a bone of contention among many current Eagle pilots, many of whom were not employed by any of these airlines during the negotiations that resulted in the consolidated contract.

"In 1997, we negotiated a contract with management that would provide long-term stability and protections against job actions in exchange for periodic adjustments to ensure that the Eagle pilot contract remains competitive," says Capt. Herb Mark, Eagle Master Executive Council chairman. "To date, the latter portion of this understanding has not been kept. We look to the upcoming amendment round with the hope that problem areas will be addressed and repaired. The upcoming negotiations provide management with an opportunity to live up to its promises and to reward the Eagle pilots for their years of loyal service."

Today’s nearly 2,500 Eagle pilots face job security challenges from furloughed American Airlines pilots whom management has improperly placed at American Eagle. The Eagle pilots confront routine contract violations from management and annually file grievances by the hundreds. Every year, the pilots are forced to seek clarification in determining the industry-average index as it applies to adjust their wage scales.

The Eagle pilots are fighting to protect their right to a designated number of 70-seat jets, which the American Airlines pilots’ union, the Allied Pilots Association, wants to take or operate at Eagle using the APA’s furloughed pilots. The Eagle pilots are in continuous debate with both Eagle and AMR management about scope concerns and the outsourcing of flying. Despite these egregious circumstances, all furloughed Eagle pilots have now been recalled. The carrier acquired three new jets per month during 2003 and plans to obtain four new jets per month in 2004.

How can the pilots of a profitable, growing carrier have so much continuing trouble? The answer lies with the Eagle pilots’ love-hate relationship with American Airlines, which they need to provide feed for, but which absorbs and benefits from their success despite American’s operational losses. One can only wonder what will happen in this dysfunctional-family relationship if the smaller sibling, in whatever future form it takes, outgrows this current dependency.