March 23, 2020
To the Membership of Local 591:
I, like most of us who have been in the airline industry for any length of time, often think that we have seen and heard it all; especially after what we experienced with the horrific events of 9/11. That said, it goes without saying that the past few weeks dealing with the coronavirus COVID-19 has brought forth a new challenge in our ever-challenging airline industry. Instead of talking about the Tentative Agreement of our JCBA and having healthy debates on the good and bad of it; we now find ourselves again in the situation of being in a state of national emergency, like we were the last time, in 2001, when we ratified that non-concessionary contract. Although the specifics of the events are very much different, the irony of where we find ourselves during a ratification vote with both unpredictable events is not missed.
What is also not missed is how the airline bailouts post 9/11 shored up their corporate balance sheets, the airlines then shipped out our jobs, and then used bankruptcy, or the threat of bankruptcy, as a means to freeze our pensions and gut our contracts. As a Local and as a Union, we have been aggressively vocal for a few years now about the stock buyback program that burned up $13 billion in cash that at least a good sum of which can be directly attributed to the sacrifices each of us have made since 2003. Although our complaints over the years were more tied to the contract, outsourcing, and our frozen pension, it is now clear that those funds would have been much better spent lowering the company’s overall debt and/or increasing the available cash in a time of uncertainty, like we are now in.
It is by learning from that past that we in Local 591 and the TWU have been extremely active this past week in Congress, both as a Local, and even more so at the International level, to focus on ensuring that there are requirements of management put in place in the event the airlines are provided a financial bailout. While we enjoin the efforts of the company in Congress in seeking the financial assistance necessary to keep each of us employed, we do so without forgetting our prior experiences. We understand, and unlike 9/11, that this dramatic downturn in the industry has been caused by a silent and invisible enemy; however, any bailout should absolutely have protections in it for airline workers, and we find it shameful that some in the Senate, as of this writing, are still actively seeking to squash such protections. I urge every Member of Local 591, and their family members and friends, to contact your Senators and Congressman (click HERE – it only takes a couple minutes of your time) and urge them to include the protections we need in an industry that has been decimated by this virus.
Protections are exactly what we need to be taking at all times while on the job in our work life, and also in our private life. We need to take responsibility of our own health and stay home when sick. I can’t make it any clearer than to say that when you are sick, to call in sick and stay home. Think about your fellow Union brothers and sisters, and your co-workers, when you decide to go to work despite feeling ill. I absolutely understand that it can be a real hardship calling out sick; however, think about your coworkers. If you have the virus, you may pass it onto them, and to their families and friends. Protecting yourself and your coworkers is the key with this virus, and that also means cleaning and disinfecting your workspace, both in the office and on the job. Whether in your breakroom and wiping down your immediate area, or for example in an aircraft cabin working on a traytable, wear protective gear like gloves and don’t hesitate to use disinfectant liberally. The same is true for our brothers and sisters working in the Stores department who are handling parts removed from aircraft.
The Safety Committee at Local 591 is using our website www.local591.com to continuously update information on the coronavirus, located on the home page of the website in the rotator at the top under the heading of “Coronavirus Update.” Please go there often for information that is primarily related to protecting ourselves as workers in the airline industry. Local 591 has a very good safety program, and an excellent and dedicated Safety Coordinator who aggressively focuses on holding management to the task of fixing the issues raised; however, we need to know the actual issues in order to fix them. We all need to take ownership, Members and Representatives, and let us know of the situations that can put you at risk of being exposed to the virus while at work. So, please get with a Local 591 Representative in your station and also file a Safety Concern (Click here to file a Safety Concern) if there is a situation that needs to be addressed, so that the issues can be tracked and quickly elevated and fixed. I can assure you that there will be follow through at the Local level. An example of the quick follow through is with the issue raised with timeclocks by our Local that was rather promptly addressed for all workers, not just our Local.
What we really don’t need at this time is fabricated problems, like just making up rumors to get a rise out people during a moment of national crisis. Anxiety levels are already high enough, and for those few individuals to start fear building rumors about the signing bonus not being paid, the pulling of the contract, and/or mass layoffs, as some examples, that is simply not helpful and that is certainly not indicative of the professional standards that we should be working towards or how we wish to be viewed publicly. I get that false narratives can make one popular on social media like Facebook, however, the lies that are spewed by certain individuals who almost always are not part of our Local, or not even in our Professions, are often mistaken as factual by those who otherwise wouldn’t know. We have seen much of this during the negotiations, and there appears to be an uptick since the Tentative Agreement was completed and the COVID-19 virus has grown exponentially. I know this because I receive numerous inquiries on a daily basis regarding the false and sometimes outrageous information posted on some Facebook sites. Local 591 has a Facebook page, and only truthful and accurate information is posted there, (Click here to join: 591 Members Forum) and the same information is also placed on www.local591.com. In addition, we still have weekly calls every Friday whereby all Local 591 Representatives across the country are invited to get on the call, listen to the latest information, and then ask the questions their members are seeking answers to.
To answer the rumors, the truth is that the company will not be pulling the contract, and they will be paying the signing bonus. There was never even a hint otherwise. In addition, there has been no talk of a layoff to date, and in fact in the past few weeks we have welcomed many new members to our Local in all three of the Title Groups that we represent. It was after all this mindset, and based on the Membership proposals submitted prior to negotiations, that we set up the nationwide protests and fought for better Scope and Job Protections that required the company to hire. We also fought to ensure that we did not make the same mistakes made by others in the past, like at Northwest Airlines, by ensuring a negotiated force majeure clause that requires a recall of those on layoff, if one were to happen, as the operation spools back up to their station if they choose to accept it.
As far as the rest of the JCBAs, my view is that they are overall solid agreements. Sure, there are things that I wished we could have achieved; however, when I weigh the positive achievements and negative there is a lot more positive in it than negative. When you look at any of the JCBA TAs as a whole and compare them to the rest of the industry, they are clearly at the top of the industry, which has been the focus of the fight from day one. With Line AMTs compensation, we did achieve our wage goal of Delta plus 7%, which is Southwest plus $1, or United plus roughly 14% for another comparator. With MLS, we also achieved Delta plus roughly 4% on the Line, which is far and away the top in the industry. The same can be said for those in GSE and Facilities Maintenance, as well as the new contract book with the Maintenance Training Specialist. These hourly wages, plus we secured an industry leading contractual Profit-Sharing formula, unlike Delta who has no union and can be unilaterally changed by management.
We also will have the most jobs in our respective workgroups than any other airline. Since I often receive email and text suggestions that we would be better off in the Southwest contract, I do need to point out that we will outnumber Southwest Airlines by nearly 5 to 1 in jobs in M&R, and 8 to 1 in MLS/Stores. That with 1,000 less flights a day, and less than 200 more aircraft than Southwest. Inside of M&R, when you look at Line AMTs we will have over double the number of Line AMTs per aircraft than Southwest. Not to mention we have about seventeen times the number of GSE and Facilities Mechanics than they do. When you think about those numbers of additional jobs in all our workgroups, picture them on a bid board, and how many more available premium bid-slots than those at Southwest Airlines. It is clear that we have achieved far superior scope language, which drives headcount, despite our airline earning $100 million less in annual net income than Southwest Airlines.
We also gained back one week of vacation for a sixth week, which is not as good as United’s seventh week, but better than Southwest and Delta who top out at five weeks of vacation. When you look at the pay we are receiving it surpasses the 7th week of vacation, so a member can drop a week through shift swaps to take a week’s vacation and still come out ahead of United. With the 401(k), we now have a far superior plan to anyone in the industry based on the defined contribution of 5% alone. I will use an AMT as an example, but the percentage remains the same for other work groups. An AMT at AA will receive 5%, or $2.77 an hour, or the applicable rate if on overtime, for each hour worked deposited directly into their 401(k). In addition, if you contribute 4%, you will receive a match of 4%. By comparison, an AMT at Delta Airlines receives a 3% defined contribution, or $1.55 an hour for each hour worked, plus they receive 6% in a match. At Southwest Airlines an AMT would receive $0 an hour automatically because they do not have a defined contribution and instead are required to contribute dollar for dollar for a match up until 9.3%. In take home pay this means an AMT at AA would need to contribute $2.22 cents an hour to receive 9% from the company in their 401k—thereby leaving $53.23 for take home minus taxes. At Delta, an AMT would need to contribute $3.10 an hour to receive 9% from Delta, thereby leaving $48.62 for take home minus taxes. At Southwest, an AMT would need to contribute $4.90 an hour to receive 9% (they can receive 9.3% if they contribute $5.06 an hour) from Southwest, thereby leaving $49.55 an hour for take home, minus any taxes. At United, they have a defined benefit pension plan leftover from Continental Airlines, and they have a 3% 401(k) match, so no real way to do a comparator with them.
A podcast will soon be posted at www.local591.com with a broad overview and comparisons to the other airlines. I ask that you listen to the podcast and read the entire JCBA for your work group. Each member has or will shortly be receiving a copy of the JCBA in the mail. Do note that a copy of the implementation schedule is not included in the mailed copy because it is still being worked out. This is a schedule of things like when work rules go to effect, and when the signing bonus will be paid. Once you have read the JCBA TA, and if you still have questions or need clarification, please contact your Regional Representatives, or send your questions to email@example.com.
Link to podcast: https://www.local591podcast.com/local-591-podcast-episode-00013-local-591-jcba-overview/
The JCBA contract vote will be conducted online starting on Wednesday and concluding on Thursday. As a Local we made sure the views of the Membership expecting an on-line vote were heard when the vote was initially announced as in-person. Those views were listened to and acted on by the TWU International, and now it is up to all of us to get as close to a 100% turnout as possible. I can report that the balloting credential and instructions were mailed last Friday, and you will also receive this identical information via your aa.com email as a backup in case you do not receive the mailing in time for the vote.
Finally, I would add that although we are going through a very difficult time in our country, this virus will pass, hopefully soon, and air travel will again return to normal. We made it through 9/11, and we will make it through this pandemic as well. This is a time for us as Unionists to do what we do best and support one another. The best way we can do that is by being mindful of the environment that we work in and being extra careful to not acquire the virus and then inadvertently pass it along to a coworker. As always, please take all the necessary precautions so that you are protecting yourself, your coworkers and your family.
Presidents Letter 3-23-2020.pdf