Labor Talks Between American, Pilots Warm Up

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    American Airlines and its pilots have been at odds for years over labor issues, but there has been a thaw in their cold war.

    In the last eight months, talk of a strike quietly dissipated.

    For the first time in at least three years, union leaders have been meeting face-to-face with American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey. Some senior American managers have even met with the union at its headquarters.

    "Well that's been our objective is to change the relationship, to improve the relationship," said David Bates, the new president of the Allied Pilots Association.

    AA, Pilots Union Now Meet Almost Weekly

    [DFW] AA, Pilots Union Now Meet Almost Weekly
    American Airlines and its pilots have been at odds for years over labor issues, but there has been a thaw in their cold war.

    The two sides now talk almost weekly.

    It's a far cry from the relationship the union and airline had just a few years ago. A 2007 letter from Lloyd Hill, the previous union president, to the airline stated, "Enjoy your blood money and your union-busting meetings. We'll see you in court, in the newspapers and on the picket line."

    A letter Bates sent to pilots in January described how the two sides worked to clear up more than 130 grievances in three days was signed by the union and by American management.

    Bates said the union is focused on contract talks.

    "We would like to see the pace of negotiations and quality of negotiations improve dramatically, and just in the past few days, we've started to see signs of that, and that's a positive development," he said.

    But Bates and his top lieutenants said the Allied Pilots Association and the airline remain far from an agreement.

    Pay and job protection are the top two issues, they said.

    "It will take a fairly respectable pay raise to get pilots a contract they will want to ratify," he said.

    The union's previous leadership pushed for a 50 percent pay hike, but Bates declined to put a number to the amount the union now would like to see.

    Pilots took pay cuts in 2003 to help the airline avoid bankruptcy.

    American Airlines declined to talk about the labor negotiations, but said in a statement that the talks are "very encouraging."

    "Both sides are working hard, and some progress has been made. Although we still have significant issues to resolve, we continue to focus on an agreement that will provide our pilots with wages and benefits they will be proud of, balanced with securing the long-term competitiveness of our airline," said Capt. Jim Thomas, director of pilot engagement and AA negotiating team member.

    Bates said he is optimistic that talks in the next couple of months will be very productive.

    American Airlines is also in negotiations with flight attendants and mechanics, but those talks are not going as well.

    Negotiations with flight attendants appear to be going downhill, and the union that represents mechanics recently turned down a proposed contract.

    NBCDFW's Scott Friedman contributed to this report.