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The Best Measure of a Company’s Culture

American Airlines has long cited the value of culture as a competitive advantage, but I believe the best measure of a company’s culture is how it conducts itself in a crisis. Today, management announced plans to furlough 1,605 pilots this fall, with 887 to be furloughed on October 1 and the remainder in November and December.

Concurrent with this morning’s announcement, management released the results of the Furlough Mitigation bidding process, choosing not to grant Voluntary Early-Out Program (VEOP) awards to the 204 qualified pilots who submitted bids. Your leadership had less than three hours’ notice to review and digest this before AA went public with the news. 

The fact that zero VEOPs were awarded is difficult for any rational person to comprehend, especially in light of senior management’s pledges to do everything in their power to avoid involuntary furloughs. It is offensive that CA Kimball Stone tried to place blame on your union for management’s refusal to award any VEOPs, while affirming that management’s decision was based on “financial benefit of the VEOP” to the company (as opposed to any potential furlough mitigation). Succinctly, management is foregoing tens of millions of dollars in savings that would accrue over time if all VEOPs were awarded. I know all of our pilots are as disappointed by this decision as I am, and it violates the spirit of collaboration under which this agreement was negotiated. Both for those pilots denied their requested VEOP, and to those who may be furloughed as a result, it is nothing short of a gut punch.

During the most recent Crew News, Mr. Isom had this to say about furlough mitigation: “When we do these programs, it’s going to be with the mind of: Does it conserve cash? Does it produce stability for the company?” Noticeably absent from this list of priorities is preventing furloughs.

To be clear, the choice to deny all VEOPs was that of management, alone. Management signed a deal and then decided, after the fact, it didn’t like the deal and sought to renegotiate the terms. Evidently, management concluded it could save even more money than the tens of millions that it would by the plain terms of the agreement. I am reminded of Mr. Parker’s long-ago statement that “you get what you negotiate.” Apparently, that principle doesn’t apply if the company does not benefit as much as it had hoped.

Now for the numbers.

Approximately 700 pilot furloughs were mitigated through either direct or self-mitigation, including awards for:

  • 76 Zero Lines awarded (non-conditional)
  • 151 Alternating-Month Schedules awarded (non-conditional)
  • 22 Voluntary Extended Leaves of Absence awarded
  • 0 VEOP awarded

As a result of the above direct furlough mitigation, the furlough line dropped 176 places.

  • 522 Zero Lines awarded from conditional bids (self-mitigation)
  • 698 furloughs mitigated (176 direct and 522 self-mitigation)

At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, management worked collaboratively with APA to develop industry-leading voluntary leaves to preserve cash and protect pilot jobs. At this stressful and critical juncture, management should reconsider its decision and change its heading into clearer skies. To get there, management must entertain a new early-out option with guaranteed awards that offer real and continued furlough mitigation effects.

In light of this terrible news in these stressful and most uncertain times, I must remind the membership of APA’s many available resources to help anyone that needs a hand navigating this situation:

APA’s Project Wingman pilot peer support group is a confidential way for you to discuss challenges with a fellow aviator. As pilots and members of APA, Wingman volunteers are specifically trained to assist by listening, encouraging, and sharing all available resources. Please reach out if you need a sympathetic ear by calling 817-823-7965.

The APA Membership Committee has been preparing for possible furloughs, standing up a Furlough Support Team to help ensure no pilots feel abandoned. All Furlough Support Team members have been previously furloughed from American Airlines.

The APA Compass Project has established an LOA-Leave/Furlough Coordinator to support pilots on leave or furlough. Similar to the Compass New Hire Mentoring Program, each pilot on a leave of absence or furlough will have continual access to APA sponsors for assistance and support all the way up to the time of recall.

October 1 is not upon us yet and in the meantime, for every APA member – junior, senior, and otherwise – please know that your APA leadership will remain fully engaged across the spectrum – including with the company as necessary – in the days and weeks to come as we continue fighting to protect your career interests. At the bargaining table, on Capitol Hill, and everywhere else it matters, we will be there for you.

CA Eric Ferguson
APA President

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