Love and Betrayal
With a wink in 2012, Laura Glading signaled she had the situation under control as American Airlines filed for bankruptcy with $4.1 billion dollars in the bank. She presented herself as the potential hero that would facilitate a merger between American Airlines and US Airways by showing the willingness of the flight attendant workgroup she represented. Doug Parker played right along as he participated in talks with Ms. Glading and other union leaders that were designed to ease a takeover of American by US Airways despite a feigned lack of enthusiasm from AA’s then CEO Tom Horton.
Correction: In an earlier version of this article I stated that flight attendants would now have to clean aircraft lavatories. The correct verbiage is: Tidy up lavatories and restock supplies in between flights [These duties have always been accomplished by cabin service personnel while aircraft are on the ground]
Now as we look back, it’s like something out of a dark primetime television drama designed to make fools of the the hardworking people who’ve taken multiple pay-cuts over the last decade to keep American Airlines in the air. Is it possible that all of this was part of a well thought out plan that had Tom Horton, Doug Parker and Laura Glading prepackaging and staging everything; up to and including the latest tentative agreement? It’s not absolutely clear just when Laura Glading unconditionally offered up the 18,000 flight attendants she represented. She campaigned tirelessly in 2012 to have her flight attendants at American approve an LFBO (Last Best Final Offer) from the company as part of American’s bankruptcy plan. Maybe she caved at one of her dinner meetings with Doug Parker and other AA officials or possibly sold out for a kiss on the cheek while attending the wedding of AA President, Scott Kirby .
The Last Best Final Offer
To have flight attendants agree to the LFBO, she danced her way across the American Airlines system on an elaborately choreographed road show designed to “inform” the flight attendants of the benefits of “choosing” what their working agreement would be rather than leaving it up to the bankruptcy judge. To many, she and her union subordinates seemed to be doing nothing more than channeling the desires and scare tactics of AA management and in hindsight it appears Doug Parker as well— who although leading US Airways, had strong historical ties to Tom Horton.
After some scuffling for the cameras, Tom Horton left the CEO position at American, following the merger, with approximately $20 million in his pocket. Doug Parker took over with everything already set neatly in place, including a group of unionized workers who’d been functioning for years with Corporate Stockholm Syndrome. Although they’d already given during the bankruptcy, the first project that Doug Parker and Laura Glading would work on together at the new American was preparing the flight attendants to give yet again! They’d apparently been identified as “marks” who, if worked properly, could make everyone at the top a bit richer in the prosperous times that were just ahead. The employees reluctantly gave in and approved the LBFO from American in August of 2012. They were simply overpowered by the collaborative propaganda and PR push mounted by AA and the APFA.
You’re Gonna Like This Whether You Like It or Not
With the merger well underway, Laura and Doug would still had more work to do.
The tentative agreement they would put out to the flight attendants for a vote in 2014 would be more of a challenge since American was making record profits. AA was reaping the benefits of the lower labor costs and was in the process of renewing its fleet; essentially being financed with the pay-cuts and work-rule changes “approved” by all workgroups. The mentality of many workers was that of deprivation. They’d adjusted to drastic cuts in pay since 2003 and many had reached very critical points in their personal finances. Obviously, this was clearly exploited as the union and the company promoted the front end pay raises with give-backs on the backend through higher medical plan costs and vague work rule changes with specifics to be determined at a later time—all while American Airlines was announcing billion dollar quarterly profits. The tentative agreement had an ambiguous $50-million credit included for profit-sharing; while Delta was paying approximately 8% of an employee’s salary as profit sharing on top of their defined compensation.
Throughout this entire series of events, Laura Glading, with the backing of her Board of Directors at the APFA, put resolutions into place which made it permissible for her to withhold any information she wished from the membership and confidentiality agreements to keep any of her board members from divulging details. She also used “side-letters” to make on-the-fly agreements with the company that the membership could not dispute or would not even be aware of until it was too late. She agreed to a Negotiation Protocol Agreement which guaranteed compensation amounts totaling barely more than what the flight attendants had agreed to in bankruptcy yet limited the gains and restricted items which could be bargained for in the negotiations process.
Every major airline in the United States, other than Spirit and American, has a profit sharing program in place. In addition to the concessions contained in the tentative agreement presented to AA’s flight attendants; there was no offer of profit sharing. Why? It seems that there was no need to offer profit sharing to a group that had historically been so willing, through their union leaders, to hand over their hard earned pay and benefits. This new “spirit of cooperation” that had flourished so beautifully between Doug Parker and Laura Glading was reaching new heights; one would almost think she was a member of American’s upper management team.
The fact is, Laura is actually related by blood to “American” royalty. Her first cousin is Tom Weir, Treasurer of US Airways and now American Airlines. Laura made an effort to squash criticism in an interview by stating that she had been surprised herself to find out she was related to Mr. Weir — possibly believable to some. Read interview here
Flight Attendants Reject Tentative Agreement
This time, the flight attendants were not so willing to approve the latest tentative agreement which they voted on in December of 2014. It was voted down even though there was a strong chance they’d lose money by doing so yet it seemed the way to publicly demonstrate that they were no longer willing to play along with the scheme any longer. Many had begun to see through the facade and realized they no longer had a union fighting for their best interest. Those in charge at the APFA had seemingly become merely agents to facilitate the will of AA’s management; which was out to wring every last cent out of these workers during the most prosperous time in American’s history.
Once the tentative agreement was voted down, the matter was then sent to arbitration. Although the APFA had agreed to the Negotiation Protocol Agreement, anything was arguable during the arbitration hearings. Laura chose to keep things as friendly as possible; giving minimal testimony and making no arguments other than the formality of requesting retroactive pay increases and “me-toos” (matching benefits if given to other workgroups; such as profit sharing). Doug Parker came out publicly around this time claiming that he did not feel profit sharing was an appropriate method of compensation given that this workgroup did not directly affect profits. This theory outraged the very people that can “make or break” the relationship American has with its customers.
Of course, the arbitration ruling came back quickly, providing the company with all the concessions they had wanted and threatened would be imposed should the flight attendants make a stand and not vote “yes” on the tentative agreement.
The aftermath was a highly divided workgroup. Those who had voted for the tentative agreement were angry that they were not receiving the front-end pay increases since it was voted down by a 50% of the flight attendant corps, plus only 16!
Laura and Doug “Pull Together to Win Together”
But wait, Laura and Doug were all ready to put on a matinee show for their adoring fans. Laura would write a letter to Doug requesting a meetings to discuss adding pay increase on top of the new arbitrated agreement. There would still be a segment of the flight attendant population who would celebrate his “good deed” and Laura Glading’s valiant efforts to bring the best possible outcome to her flight attendants.
American’s Not Ready for Delta
Delta Air Lines has watched closely as American has continued to dig themselves into an even deeper ditch of labor discontent. Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson, presents an entirely different approach to motivating employees in Harvard Business Review:
“We wanted to continue rewarding people for their perseverance in tough times and incentivize them to help propel Delta into the future. In addition to the stock ownership plan, we found a way to give our employees raises even during the 2008–2009 financial crisis, when the price of oil spiked to more than $150 a barrel and our margins were shrinking. Under that philosophy we have also made sure to keep our benefits and retirement plans the same for everyone—executive, pilot, flight attendant, or member of the ground crew—and management compensation is relatively low for a company of our size. ” RICHARD ANDERSON, CEO of DELTA AIR LINES
Delta has taken well called for jabs at American Airlines for their shameless efforts to avoid sharing with or investing in their employees. Laura Glading has responded, proving she’ll do just about anything to defend the poor behavior and lack of integrity of herself and Doug Parker. She states:
“I think Delta has a great PR machine, a great spin. All the talk of family and money always seems to be most prominent when they have somebody organizing on their property. The IAM has Delta’s management team scrambling, doing things they wouldn’t do under another circumstance,” LAURA GLADING, APFA PRESIDENT, from an article in TheStreet.com
Laura Glading may have described the methods used by Delta’s management to keep unions off the property; but at least when Delta’s flight attendants eventually become unionized they’ll have her performance at APFA to help them identify the least desirable leadership qualities as they elect their own union officers.
What’s Coming Up Next?
So many American Airlines flight attendants who’ve lived through this tragic melodrama get by on the hopes there will eventually be a day of reckoning. Upcoming elections provide an opportunity to wipe out the leadership who’ve brought them to this low-point in their careers. There are also other efforts underway including a petition to recall Laura Glading in the near term and the possibility of bringing in a much stronger and scrupulous union altogether to represent the flight attendants.
The saddest part is that none of this needed to happen and without it American Airlines could be flying higher than ever before; supercharged by the determination of its people.