New union leaders toning down rhetoric against American Airlines


FORT WORTH, Texas — New leaders of the pilots’ union at American Airlines are toning down the rhetoric against the company, believing that will help them win a new labor contract.

They say they’re going to stop using billboards and picket lines to blast the company.

The newly elected union leaders said Thursday they want job-protection measures and pay raises in a new contract, although they didn’t give specifics.

American has long suffered from testy labor-management relations that led to two strikes in the 1990s and renewed threats of strikes this year by flight attendants and ground workers.

David Bates, new president of the Allied Pilots Association, said he has reached out to tell American executives he wants open communication with the company.

“We’re talking to each other, and that’s something that hasn’t happened in the past three years,” Bates said.

Bates and other top union leaders have been on the job just a week, so it’s hard to know whether the good vibes will fade away and be replaced by the usual bickering between pilots and executives at the nation’s second-biggest airline.

Under past president Lloyd Hill, the pilots rented billboards and picketed outside the offices of large corporate customers to blast their own company. But when three years of confrontation failed to produce a new contract, Hill declined to run for re-election and the pilots picked a more moderate slate led by Bates, 55, a Miami-based Boeing 777 captain who has flown for American since 1984.

Bates said his main goal in contract negotiations is to win pay raises and protect jobs — American like other carriers is looking to cut costs by shifting more flights to regional carriers such as its American Eagle affiliate.

Under Hill, the union proposed 52 percent pay raises designed to offset wage cuts in 2003 and restore salaries to their early-1990s levels, including inflation. American management responded that labor costs were already too high and that the airline industry had changed since the ’90s with the rise of low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines, AirTran and JetBlue.

Bates hinted that the union could scale back its pay demand, but he first wants to see an offer from American. He said the union also wants its members to fly some regional jets — work currently done by American Eagle pilots.

American and Eagle are owned by AMR Corp., based in Fort Worth. AMR is considering selling or spinning off Eagle.