An American Airlines Boeing 777 plane taxis towards the gate at Miami International Airport. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Pilots' union officials say the chief executive of American Airlines and its parent won't meet the union president to discuss stalled contract talks, with CEO Gerard Arpey suggesting instead that both sides should let federal mediators have more time to broker an agreement.
The standoff, detailed in letters back and forth between the two leaders, is the latest sign of tension between AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and its three unions.
Federal mediators have been enlisted to help in all three negotiations. Employees want to recover wage cuts they took in 2003, but the company, which lost $2.1 billion last year, wants to hold the line on spending.
Last week, Allied Pilots Association President Lloyd Hill wrote to Arpey to say it was time for the CEO to help resolve a standoff after 28 months of bargaining. Hill offered to meet with Arpey any time.
In a letter dated Monday, Arpey responded without directly saying whether he would meet with Hill. Arpey said the company wanted a contract "that meets the best interests of American Airlines and our pilots" but was still dedicated to the mediation process, which he said was "deliberate and thorough."
Scott Shankland, a spokesman for the union, said Thursday that pilots were surprised Arpey wasn't interested in meeting. He added that negotiations are not working, and that the union might ask federal negotiators to declare an impasse, which could trigger a 30-day cooling-off period followed by a strike.
"The airline and the union are facing a countdown toward a job action," Shankland said. "This is an opportunity for (Arpey) to step in and lead this airline."
Susan Gordon, a spokeswoman for American, said "it's not typically the role of the chairman and CEO" to take part directly in negotiations." She added that Arpey had invited Hill to attend regular meetings with himself and other top executives, but that the union chief had declined.
Gordon said the two sides have failed to agree on any parts of the contract since mediation began because "APA has shown an unwillingness to talk about anything but their own proposals."
Shortly after talks began, the union requested pay raises of more than 50 percent to offset wage concessions in 2003 and restore pilots to the purchasing power they had in 1992. The company rejected the proposal as too costly.
Under federal law, labor contracts in the airline industry don't expire but can be changed at the end of their intended term. The pilots' union contract became eligible for change last May.
Federal mediators are also involved in negotiations between American and its flight attendants and ground workers.
Shares of AMR rose 40 cents, or 8.1 percent, to $5.36.