D-Day Approaches: “We know why you wildcat strike.”


D-Day Approaches:  “We know why you wildcat strike.”

Why is OPERATION ORANGE going through the effort to change the laws? Is it nothing more than a petulant grab for what we legitimately lost at the bargaining table, or is there something more to it? Is it all about our paychecks and time off, or do others benefit from what we are doing?

This is why, and it is going to be the way pilot labor relations will be in the future, unless Congress changes the law.

Turbulence Ahead for American’s Passengers

 May 4, 2012
By an American Airlines pilot [1]
Published by OPERATION ORANGE with permission.

Tom Horton is trying to make history.

The newly minted CEO of American Airlines wants to throw out the labor agreements of its pilots, flight attendants and ground workers and force them to work under new rules imposed by his management team. The employees would be forced to take less pay, work longer hours and would lose their pensions. They would pay three times as much for their medical insurance, and would be severely penalized for calling in sick. Mr. Horton also wants to lay off 14,200 experienced workers, and replace them with cheap contract labor both in and out of the US. He also wants to farm out American Airlines flights to other airlines, so if your ticket is purchased on American you may fly on a different carrier. The team also wants to put hundreds of small jets into service, the ones with small uncomfortable seats and tiny overhead storage.

So why is this so historical? After all, the other major airlines have all used bankruptcy court to cut workers pay and benefits, and void contracts with aircraft and parts suppliers. The difference however, is that these airlines negotiated with their employees and exited bankruptcy with labor agreements. Not so with Mr. Horton. His management team, although they told the bankruptcy judge they are negotiating, will not negotiate with the unions. Oh sure, they show up to the negotiating sessions, but they don’t give an inch. Tom Horton, for the first time in history, is going to let the court abrogate the union contracts and force the employees to work under rules that could be considered unsafe.

When the bankruptcy judge rules on this around June 6th[2], the affect on American Airlines passengers will be immediate. If you’re holding a ticket on June 7th or after, plan on being inconvenienced. Why? Because to use a line from a movie, the employees are “mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” Simply stated, a large group from all three unions will just stay home. They won’t do this at the behest of their respective unions of course, that would be illegal. They will band together through grass roots organizations like OPERATION ORANGE [3], and take a stand against the corrupt use of bankruptcy courts and the Railway Labor Act by corporations that line the pockets of their executives while employees work under pay rates from 1992.

It is possible however, that American’s passengers will go on their way as if nothing happened. If the management at US Airways is successful in convincing the Unsecured Creditors Committee that a merger with American is in the best interest of all parties, then the American employees will gladly provide the service expected by the flying public. We’ll see. Tom Horton, a celebrated hatchet man whose “been to this rodeo before,” is hell bent on keeping everything to himself and making history. If you plan on flying American Airlines, keep an eye on his next move.


Air Canada Army Of One

 By an Air Canada pilot [4]
February 15, 2012
Republished by OPERATION ORANGE, with permission

I am an army of One – A Captain in the Air Canada army.

For years, I was a loyal soldier in the Air Canada army. I used to fight for the Big Red – Now, I fight my own war.

I used to feel valued and respected. Now, I know I am mere fodder.

They used to exhibit labour leadership. Now, they exploit legal loopholes.

They used to enjoy my maximum. Now, they will suffer my minimum.

I am an army of One.

I used to save Air Canada a thousand pounds of fuel per leg; finding the best altitude, getting direct routing, throttling back when on-time was made, skimping during ground ops, adjusting for winds, being smart and giving the company every effort I could conjure. Now, it’s “burn baby, burn!”.

I used to call maintenance while airborne, so the part would be ready at the gate. Now, they’ll find the write-up when they look in the book.

I used to try to fix problems in the system, now I sit and watch as the miscues pile up.

I used to fly sick. Now, I use my sick days, on short notice, on the worst days of the month.

I am an army of One.

I used to start the air conditioning at the last possible moment. Now, my customers enjoy extreme comfort.

I used to let the price of fuel affect my fuel loads. I still do.

I used to cover mistakes by operations. Now, I watch them unfold.

I used to hustle to ensure an on-time arrival, to make us the best. Now, I don’t share my success.

I used to call dispatch for rerouting, to head off ground delays for bad weather. Now, I collect paid minutes, number 35 in line for takeoff.

I am on a new mission to demonstrate that misguided leadership of indifference and disrespect has a cost. It’s about character, not contracts. It’s about leading by taking care of your people instead of leadership by bean counters (an oxymoron). With acts of omission, not commission, I am a one-man wrecking crew – an army of One. My mission used to be to make Air Canada rich. Now, it’s to make Air Canada pay.

When they manipulate summer vacation to save their understaffed airline, I will make them pay.

When they force my FO to sit in economy while deadheading with Jazz pilots sitting in first class, I will make them pay.

When they provide me with a sub-standard hotel for me to rest, I will make them pay.

When over-booked customers are denied boarding system wide because of their lack of planning, I will make them pay.

When they force pilots, who have waited 12 years to become Captains, to be FOs again, I will make them pay.

When they try to manipulate my schedule to fix their lack of planning, I will make them pay.

When they trick my FO into flying over his duty day, I will make them pay.

When the CEO receives his 5 million dollars bonus on April 1st, while I am still 20% below, I will make them pay.

When they constantly violate the letter and spirit of our contract – a contract that’s a bargain by any measure – and force us to fight lengthy grievances, I will make them pay.

My negotiating committee speaks for me, but I act on my own. I am a walking nightmare to the bean counters that made me. Are you listening? This mercenary has a lot of years left with this company; how long can you afford to keep me bitter? I’m not looking for clauses in a contract, I’m looking for a culture of commitment and caring. When I see it, I’ll be a soldier for Air Canada again. Until then, I am an Army of One and I’m not alone.


Airline management and government act as if our world is immune to the relationship between cause and effect. They incorrectly assume that what has been can always be. In the context of pilot labor relations, they assume pilots will dutifully perform their assigned tasks, regardless of the conditions by which those tasks were assigned. This may be true over a short term and under extreme circumstances, as pilots are generally a reasonable breed. However, as we said in October of 2010,

The entire industry is fundamentally broken and being held together by the professionalism of the piloting corps. The reservoir of pilot sufferance is not infinite nor is this safe harbor of pilot patience an area where management should think it can operate indefinitely.[5]

We have talked about a theoretical “catastrophic breakdown” in the air transportation industry, and we are on the precipice of it no longer being consigned to theory. OPERATION ORANGE, for all it has been misrepresented and misunderstood, seeks to prevent such a catastrophic breakdown. We seek a regulatory paradigm where chaos, unprofessionalism, and petulant displays of emotion are obsolete ways of obtaining parity in the influence over pay and working conditions.

If the current paradigm is allowed to persist, natural human resistance to injustice will prevail. However, the form of that resistance is the subject of speculation. We believe the industry will be plagued by pilots hampering the operation by either widespread, passive-aggressive, maladroit piloting, or outright wildcat strikes.

If they have no legitimate way to temper the aggressive nature of the collusion their managers enjoy with the government, they will lash out by less-than-desirable means. When we say, “less-than-desirable,” we mean in a manner that is not easily rectified by the existing managerial and legislative tools.

In other words, Congress (and the Canadian Parliament) needs to act now, before the situation explodes into a chaotic mess that harkens back to the days of rail labor unrest after the Civil War.

What happens when reality is ignored and the heavy hand of government enforces corporate greed and the looting of the industry? What happens when Congress holds hearings on protecting airline employees in bankruptcy, where expert after expert testify that the law needs to be changed, and they do nothing but listen to the hired guns for the banking industry?[6]

You get the environment for wildcat strikes and a persistent “low grade infection” of intentional pilot inefficiencies. The laws passed to help preserve reliable transportation are now the flashpoint and casus belli for labor unrest that imperils such reliable transportation.

This is what happens when there is no pressure relief valve in the system.

American Airlines pilots are at that point, and come June 22nd, they could be “something absent in the air.” AMR executives are likely to be granted a rejection of their pilot contract on June 6th of this year. You would have to be afflicted with a special strain of stupidity to believe the pilots will absorb this hit to their livelihoods, and continue to perform as if it was their civic duty.

Air Canada continues to use government collusion to pressure its pilots into accepting concessions that will lead to permanent outsourcing. If Air Canada keeps being protected by Lisa Raitt, Canadian passengers may have to GO FAR to find a flight.

We receive periodic requests to publish labor angst on the OPERATIONORANGE.org website. This posting is a sampling of two such publications regarding the state of the industry.

We do not endorse wildcat actions, nor passive-aggressive inefficiencies. We wish to have an industry that is healthy and beneficial for all parties involved: shareholders, employees, passengers, customers, and the general public. This isn’t going to happen in the current regulatory paradigm.

These two items we posted portend a grave shift in how things are normally handled. Pilots appear to be fighting back.

We don’t blame them one bit.

Once this gets started, it will be difficult to stop. Perhaps it is time for the laws to be changed. If OPERATION ORANGE is successful, actions such as this, will be obsolete.

Please call, fax, write, and visit your elected officials. They have brought this upon themselves. We are offering a way out.


[1] Identity is being withheld. It is policy that OPERATION ORANGE not provide names for editorials by active pilots, unless the author requests it.
[2] The bankruptcy court with jurisdiction over the American Airlines bankruptcy has moved the date of this ruling to June 22, 2012.
[3] OPERATION ORANGE is not a wildcat action nor an advocate of such. OPERATION ORANGE is an organized, methodical political protest protected under the First Amendment.
[4] Identity is being withheld. This was originally written by a Continental Airlines pilot and was adapted for the current environment at Air Canada. Any airline pilot could have written this, as airline managerial and government tactics are all the same.
[5] OPERATION ORANGE, Fatigue Mitigation Response, pg 22, available at www.operationorange.org/fatigueresponse.pdf
[6] Protecting Airline Employees in Bankruptcy, available at www.operationorange.org/airlineemployeesinBK.pdf
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