Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
American Airlines and the Allied Pilots Association returned to the bargaining table for their first face-to-face meetings since a bankruptcy judge threw out the pilots' contracts with the airline.
For the first time in months, negotiators for American Airlines and its pilots will sit down at the bargaining table. Both sides need to get past weeks of flight cancellations and delays, as well as years of mistrust.
The pilots have until noon on Wednesday to vote whether to call for a strike if contract talks break down with the company. The divided sides say they do want to reach a deal.
“We’re committed to working with the APA to find a solution that meets the pilots' needs as well as what the company needs to do,” says American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks.
It’s the first time negotiators for American Airlines and the Allied Pilots Association will come face-to-face, since a bankruptcy judge sided with the company and tossed out the pilots contracts last month.
What will not be known at the bargaining table is whether the pilots have decided to strike. The union says those results may be used as a negotiating tool down in the future.
“The result of the strike vote would be an elephant in the room. We’ve decided to have the elephant stay in the hallway. Down the line if we need it, the elephant in the hallway is waiting to come into the room,” says Captain Craig Thorson, an American Airlines pilot.
The pilots are more positive going into this round of negotiations, after they shot down the company’s last best offer in August. They insist they’re fighting for job security, fair pay and retirement benefits. The union believes the airlines is under pressure to ink an agreement by the end of December. December 28th the judge has agreed to open up the bankruptcy process to hear merger offers from other airlines.
“I think it creates a little impetus for the company to establish an industry standard contract for the pilots,” says Capt. Thorson.
American’s spokesman Bruce Hicks will only say that management is willing to resume negotiations this week, putting this chapter behind them after weeks of flight slowdowns and finger pointing. He won’t reveal if the airlines will budge at all on its offer. “We’re going to work together on this to try to find solutions,” says Hicks.
Union leaders are meeting Wednesday morning to hash out its strategy for negotiations that they believe will resume Wednesday afternoon.
American’s CEO, Tom Horton, expects the bargaining sessions will be intensive.