Tuesday, March 13, 2012

American Airlines and a "Post Union" Flight Attendant

In the Season of Union Busting,
 Bankruptcy May Not Be Bankruptcy

MeanMesa visitors are already familiar with the craven scheme American Airlines took up to permanently castrate any possible future collective bargaining "problems" with the corporation's union flight crews and other employees.  For younger visitors, we can reiterate one or two of the benefits of collective bargaining here.

First, unions have both negotiated and largely delivered on their claims of being a good source of well trained, competent employees.  Especially in the case of very large employers -- such as American Airlines -- the quality of workers has been managed best with strict union guidelines about what it takes to wear the uniform.  Although not a perfect solution, the almost inevitable nepotism and payoff schemes cannot survive the competitive examination of other union members who are actually qualified for such jobs but denied them.

Second, union labor forces traditionally have greatly increased job security, much better health benefits and far less to worry about when it comes to retirement.  It turns out that a labor force enjoying these advantages of collective bargaining is, fundamentally, a more productive -- and profitable -- labor force than one without them.

Companies such as American Airlines have gradually agreed to benefits such as these through years of repeated contract negotiations with the respective unions representing the company's employees.  For example, cooperatively financed pension funds have been slowly built up with contributions from both the company and the union employees.  In most cases, a wide range of other benefits have also become part of such contracts, for example, assistance to pay for education and legal assistance funds, continuing training, marriage counseling and so on.

MeanMesa thinks it's important to review all these basics about organized labor.  As mentioned before, most of the young folks among us have no memory of a national labor force where vast numbers of workers were happily and productively unionized and where wages and work conditions were routinely improving because of it.  This period ended with the rampages of Ronald Reagan.  

Since then, wages for middle class workers have become smaller -- in 2012 dollars, but also in 1980's dollars!  In the last year we have seen everything from  horrible death counts in mine safety disasters to literally millions of people who work two jobs but require food stamps to feed their families.  If you think that these are simply legitimate "market corrections" to lower and lower labor rates, go work for Governor Walker against his recall campaign.

All this labor history is presented here in hopes of providing a little more insight into the events at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and the conveniently "crazy" flight attendants.  (Read all of the ABC report here.)

The Full Effects of Bankruptcy as a
Corporate "Career Opportunity"

If you were an investment advisor and you wanted to look over the American Airlines "managed bankruptcy," all the financial details are public record. Part of your "reading assignment" should be a few articles about how Bain Capital organized the massacre of the union.  If the links below aren't enough, there are plenty more to Google.

Talking Points Memo

Democratic Underground

But, but, the bankruptcy was an unavoidable necessity, right?  Well... It might have been somewhat, sort of necessary, but to see it that way, it had to be Tuesday morning, the wind couldn't be blowing and you hold your tongue just right.  If you're looking at it any other time, it looks much more like a scheme to simply eliminate the airline's unions, freeing up all sorts of "previously trapped assets" which could then be used to pay dividends to stock holders, and, of course, pay the fees to the bankruptcy managers, Bain Capital.

Arlington Voice

And, of course, after suffering through the painful pangs of the bankruptcy, the executive class in American Airlines received some well deserved raises.  In MeanMesa terms, they made out like bandits.

The "Crazy" Flight Attendant

Naturally, we can only guess what was running through her mind the morning that she so completely freaked out, terrifying the passengers, forcing the airliner to disembark and winding up in handcuffs.  However, it doesn't seem to require a "leap of logic" to reveal a possible common thread which runs from the "necessary bankruptcy" to the evisceration of her union benefits and, ultimately, to her emotional crisis.

Predictably, a spokesman for the airline rushed forward with the comforting revelation of the flight attendant's previous psychiatric record -- she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the past.  Still, there remained the problem of explaining the similar reaction of the other flight attendant who had also joined in with the terrifying rant.

She, very likely, had caught manic depression from the first one.  Perhaps, the two women had inadvertently shared a coffee cup just prior to the flight, allowing the "crazy" to infect both employees.

So, believe it or not, it seems that we're left with a question of values.  Certainly, Bain's "promise" during the bankruptcy sales pitch was that the airline would emerge with exactly the same quality of labor force but for a much cheaper -- and more profitable -- price.  It would be a painless, "slam dunk" case of "see, everybody wins!"

Being Fair to Bain Capital

Visitors here know from experience that, occasionally, MeanMesa lurches into all manner of hyperbolic descriptions during discussions of topics.  A little, cold, self-observation of this fact leads us to the question.  Is it really fair to characterize Mitt Romney's flagship enterprise as a "corporate rendering plant?"  In fact, is such an overly dramatic gesture even effective with MeanMesa visitors?

After all, many of them have never had any experience whatsoever with an actual rendering plant.

Beyond the hyperbole, the relevance of the issue is clear.  This is basically what we can expect if Mitt Romney ever gets close enough to the Oval office to cast so much as a tall, self-effacing, dignified, "yuck, yuck, yucking" shadow in the seat of power.

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You get the picture.

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