Shiny Objects Syndrome – Part I: The Delta Tentative Agreement

The Devil Went Down To Georgia

(Airline Pilot Version)

(For a PDF of this parody, Click HERE)
(For a PDF of this posting, Click HERE)
THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA, HE WAS LOOKING FOR SOME SCOPE TO STEAL.
HE KNEW ALPA’S IN A BIND, WITH D-P-A JUST BEHIND, AND THEY’D BE WILLIN’ TO MAKE A DEAL.
WHEN HE CAME ACROSS PLANES CAUSING SOUTHWEST SOME PAINS, HE HAD AN EVIL THOUGHT
AND THE DEVIL CALLED UP ALPA SAID, “BOYS, LET ME TELL YOU WHAT:”
“I GUESS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW IT, BUT I’VE GOT SOME SHINY PLANES TO CREW.”
“AND THERE‘S A WAY TO GET MORE PAY, BUT JUST A PROVISO OR TWO.”
“NOW YOU DRIVE A HARD BARGAIN, BOYS, BUT GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE;”
“YOU NEED A WIN, ‘CUZ THE MARGIN‘S THIN, AND D-P-A‘S GUNNING FOR YOU.”
THE CHAIR SAID, “MY NAME’S TIMMY AND IT MIGHT NOT BE OK,”
“BUT I’LL TAKE YOUR DEAL, OR I’M GUNNA REGRET THE VOTE FOR D-P-A.”
TIMMY CRANK UP THE SPIN MACHINE, YOU GOT TO SELL THIS HARD.
‘COS GREED’S BROKE LOOSE IN GEORGIA AND A-4-A DEALS THE CARDS.
TAKE THE MONEY, BECAUSE IT‘S ALPA’S ONLY HOPE.
BUT FOR THE PAY, A-4-A GETS YOUR SCOPE.
ALPA DROOLED AT THE SIGHT OF EIGHTY-EIGHT SHINY PLANES.
AND WITH SOME GOOD OL’ DELTA KOOL-AID COURSING THROUGH THEIR VEINS.
“DESPITE BEING SCREWED THE LAST TEN YEARS, WE DESPERATELY WANT TO TRUST.”
THE DEVIL SAID, “WE NEED TO UP-GAUGE OUR LITTLE JETS, ’CUZ FUEL’S A BUST.”
“THERE’S SOME EXTRA CASH IN IT FOR YOU TO BUY SHINY NEW CARS,”
“BUT FOR THAT, YOUR PILOTS WILL HAVE TO FLY CLOSE TO THE F-A-RS.”
R-JS CLOG THE TARMAC, BURN FUEL, BURN.
A-4-A USES THEM TO DROP WHAT WE EARN.
ALPA COLLECTS OUR DUES TO HELP THEM COPE.
MOAK NEEDS TO GET A CLUE.
“SCOPE? WHAT‘S SCOPE?”
THE DEVIL LAUGHED HIS ASS OFF BECAUSE THINGS HAD GONE HIS WAY
HE KNEW HE HAD THE UPPER HAND, DUE TO THE R-L-A
SATAN SAID, “TIMMY, JUST COME ON BACK IF YOU EVER WANT TO SET ME STRAIGHT.”
“‘CAUSE NEXT TIME, FOR FREE, YOU WILL AGREE TO OUTSOURCE THOSE EIGHTY-EIGHT.”
AND HE PLAYED,
R-JS CLOG THE TARMAC, BURN FUEL, BURN.
A-4-A USES THEM TO DROP WHAT WE EARN.
ALPA COLLECTS OUR DUES TO HELP THEM COPE.
MOAK NEEDS TO GET A CLUE.
“SCOPE? WHAT‘S SCOPE?”
 

 Shiny Object Syndrome – Part I

The Delta-DALPA Tentative Agreement

Anyone that has dealt with pilots for any length of time knows all too well that they, like everyone else, have many strong points, as well as a few weaknesses. One of the seemingly universal weaknesses of airline pilots is their propensity to be distracted by shiny objects. This can come in many forms, but all serve the same purpose of drawing attention away from the longer-term objectives to the here-and-now. Saving for retirement, or for a strike fund may not pay off for ten to twenty years, but blowing five grand on a wrist-watch pays off right now.

All three major airline pilot groups (United, Delta, & American) have recently had developments commanding their immediate attention. This installment will examine the recent hoopla over the Delta-DALPA Tentative Agreement.

Delta seems to be firing on all cylinders: profits are way up, pilots are generally content, acquisition targets abound, and bankruptcy seems to be a distant memory. Their contract is soon to be open and they have a CEO that “wants to run an airline.”

What more could a pilot want?

How about not having to go through a decade of negotiations, like their peers at American, United, and US Airways are doing? How about a bunch of shiny new airplanes to fly? How about a pay raise?

What’s not to like? As the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.”

Everyone knows by now that DALPA has secured a tentative agreement that will hike the pay across the board and secure the 88 new airplanes Delta is acquiring from Southwest. The first reaction across the piloting corps was, “WOW! Look at those pay rates (shiny objects)!!!” Never mind that the pay still lags what they had going into bankruptcy; a raise is a raise. Having the ability to bypass the intentional “can kicking” management is allowed to do under the RLA, while calling it “good faith bargaining,” is certainly a favorable development.

Self-funding: Not a Two-way Street

The pay rates are a step in the right direction, and should be seen as a “win” for ALPA, so long as the pay rates are viewed as a stand-alone item. The problem is they are not a stand-alone item. ALPA had to indulge management in a bothersome trend that has developed across the industry – “self-funding.”

ALPA had to pay for those new pay tables by agreeing to allowing management the ability to increase the size of the jets in their regional jet fleet, along with abandoning profit sharing, allowing more utilization of reserves, and a few other items. The new “industry standard” in pilot negotiating is forcing pilots to “pay” for enhancements to their contracts by providing concessions in other areas. As we shall see in the next installment of “Shiny Objects,” the pilots of American Airlines (and US Airways) are going to have to “self-fund” the pay raises APA said are part of the new labor agreement with US Airways management.

We note that this “self-funding” concept was not in play when management used the bankruptcy system to amend our contracts over the past decade. They didn’t “self-fund” the pay cuts by enhancing scope, medical, or retirement. No, they were able to achieve across-the-board concessions in pay, retirement, medical, scope, vacation, work rules, scheduling, etc., without any nod toward “self-funding.”

The question remains, “Why do our pilot associations need to “self-fund” improvements to their contracts?

They don’t. They only need to do so if they are unwilling to wage a fight through the RLA process and prepare their membership for a strike. Self-funding is the path of least resistance, so that’s what they choose, because politicians always choose the path of least resistance. We should be able to secure net gains, or even across-the-board gains if circumstances allow.

Small Jets = Big Problems

Delta Air Lines, along with all the major carriers operating small jet outsourcing operations, have a very real problem with their Barbie jets. The 50 seat airplanes are an albatross around their bottom line, and they desperately need out from under their small jets. High fuel prices have forced the hand of management, and they need to send the airplanes to the desert. However, they don’t want to lose the primary reason for buying those jets in the first place: the ability to whipsaw them against the pilots of the mainline for purposes of lowering compensation, and as a stop-gap measure to ameliorate the effects of a work stoppage by the mainline pilots.

The solution is to “up-gauge” the outsourcing operation to offset the punishing fuel costs of operating small jets. The larger the jet, the more efficient the fuel burn per paying passenger. Mike Boyd, of Boyd Group International made this prediction almost a decade ago when airline after airline was involved in a two-fisted grab for small jets flown by cheap and inexperienced pilots, and subsequently formed the conga line into federal bankruptcy court as their costs skyrocketed.

DALPA wrote about how there will be a net drop in the amount of small jets Delta will be able to utilize, but failed to highlight how increasing the average size of the outsourcing aircraft makes the outsourcing operation more viable – a detriment to the mainline pilots, but a boon to the R-J pilots ALPA represents. Crowing about securing the grounding of all but 125 50-seat jets is like wanting credit to secure the next sunrise – it was going to happen anyway. DAL management secured a concession for something they would have to do, with or without an agreement. This can only be seen as an unqualified “win” for management at the expense of the future flying at Delta mainline.

Now, Delta has the ability to extend the viability of their outsourcing, as AMR is forcing through the bankruptcy process, and CUH is likely trying to force this in its negotiations, which is why it is dragging out. 

It’s The Viability, Stupid.

DALPA misses the mark when it talks about reducing the amount of R-J aircraft and calling it a win. Yes, the amount of lift generated by DAL’s outsourcing operation will be reduced, but it will become more viable. This is the danger, as it is the lack of viability of the outsourcing operation that ALPA and APA originally thought would constrain the R-J threat. They never thought airlines would absorb the high CASM and poor customer satisfaction to the point of bankruptcy – but they did, and our profession teeters on the brink of destruction for that miscalculation.

It appears that we have not learned our lesson.

 

Viability is what is desired by management, as a viable outsourcing operation carries greater leveragability than an unviable operation, regardless of the size. Two thousand Gulfstream IV aircraft are a lot less viable to a part 121 common air carrier than half a dozen B-777s. A forward thinking pilot union should fear the outsourcing of B-777s more so than the Gulfstream jets, even though the 777 outsourcing represents fewer pilot job losses. The airline has no external pressure to help the pilots recapture the 777 flying, but they know the small jets are not suitable for the type of flying Delta does and economics will eventually dispose of the small jets.

The same principle works with the up-gauging of the R-J fleet. While the fleet is smaller, it now approaches the ability to stand on its own, and relieves DAL of the pressure to subsidize small-jet lift. This relief allows DAL to pack a heavier punch at the next negotiation, since its flank is covered with respect to the viability of the outsourcing operation. If DAL were constrained in the larger R-Js, economic inevitability would ground the smaller jets. To gain viability, they would have to dramatically shrink the R-J lift.

15 years ago, would DALPA (or any other major pilot association) have signed off on an outsourcing operation with an average seat capacity of 68? Of course not, but that is what ALPA and DAL have cooked up, and they expect pilots to agree, because they are mesmerized by some modestly impressive pay tables and a worthless statistic about how fewer R-J aircraft will be in operation.

Clearly, the pilot associations have the leverage to take back ground from the outsourcing operations, as customer dissatisfaction, fuel pricing, and a dearth of new pilots are forcing the issue. The goal of management’s coordinated efforts across the industry is to prevent us from exercising that leverage. They need to frustrate pilots with the RLA (United), force the issue in bankruptcy (American), or distract them with shiny objects (Delta). They can keep the hard limit of 255 of the 51+ seat R-Js, while allowing fuel to force the 50 and under jets to the desert. This is a scope victory and DALPA does not need to do anything to achieve it.

DALPA is snatching defeat from the gaping jaws of victory – a fine tradition of our pilot associations.

If Delta pilots refuse to allow the up-gauging of the outsourcing operation, and secure the upper end of the flying for their mainline, they will command future negotiations, since management will lack a viable option to go around them. By caving in, as they have done, they are risking Delta having tremendous leverage. Should the economy recess, the next scope concession would be to outsource those 88 B-717s.

That is the price of short-sighted goals. 

Is This TA To Benefit Delta Pilots or ALPA?

Why would DALPA go the “self-funding” route when Delta Air Lines is tallying massive profits and the pilot contract is becoming amendable? Certainly, the fact that an entirely new PWA has been negotiated in seemingly record time, shows that somebody really needed something – and fast.

We think both parties, DALPA and Delta, needed an agreement, but for different reasons, and that DALPA was the most desperate. Why would a pilot association conduct negotiations in such a quick manner, while caving on scope? Certainly, Delta can afford a net-gain by the pilot contract, so why the sudden urge to conclude negotiations before they are even open?

 

Copyright DPA

DALPA referenced how long negotiations have taken at American, United, and US Airways, and that is certainly a factor. Securing pay increases today is preferable to having to go into a period where management can use the RLA to shift the discussion to times where pilot leverage isn’t as acute. While this is a concern, DALPA faces a unique challenge, and is one where the future of the largest and oldest pilot association hangs in the balance.

The answer is the effort by Delta Pilots Association (DPA) to collect enough cards to decertify ALPA as the representative for Delta pilots. DPA is close enough to make ALPA nervous, and had ALPA fumbled its way through the upcoming negotiation, there would likely be enough dissatisfaction to tip the scales in favor of DPA.

Copyright DPA

This has dire consequences for ALPA as a national entity. If Delta pilots decertify ALPA, then United pilots would be right behind them, as they wouldn’t want to be the sole funding source for the outsourcing operations ALPA represents. FedEx, Alaska, and Hawaiian would likely be on their way out of ALPA, consigning it to insignificance. It would only live to represent the R-J operators. The “major” pilot associations (DPA, APA, SWAPA, IPA, USAPA, and UAPA (the UAL pilots)) would likely form a very large and powerful confederation that would have economic and political power dwarfing what remains of ALPA. The dynamic in Washington would no longer be ALPA throwing its weight around as the “largest” pilot association, even though it is engaged in the zero-sum game of representing “major” pilots and “regional” pilots. The new paradigm would be the confederation of major pilot associations seeking their own agenda, at the expense of the agenda sought by ALPA and the regional pilot associations. The battle lines would clearly be drawn, rather than blurred, as they are today.

There is no doubt as to the outcome of that fight.

ALPA is in the fight for its survival, which is why the new TA for DALPA has transitory gains in pay while giving up near-permanent concessions in scope. Both entities engaged in a game of getting what they want at the expense of the rank-and-file pilots: DAL got to breathe life into its outsourcing operation, while DALPA appears relevant in the face of a decertification effort, hoping to distract pilots with shiny objects.

We believe DALPA is trying too hard with its “shiny object” strategy. In its May 24, 2012 “Negotiator’s Notepad,” DELTA MEC crows about the massive pay increases this new TA brings when compared to other airlines. This graphic is very misleading, as it is trying to blur the distinction between the pay increases that have already been realized, and those that are part of the TA. It also fails to account for other airlines realizing gains in contract negotiations. Eventually, they will be forced to jettison scope to attain parity with the new “industry standard” set by Delta pilots.

In many ways, the graphics in the 5/24/12 publication show the problems inherent within the RLA, and that the only way to get timely adjustments in working conditions and compensation is to throw scope to the wind, as DALPA has done with this TA.

Cui bono? The various airline trade associations, such as the A4A.

This isn’t something to brag about. Any collection of warm bodies can attain a new contract if they give their counterparts just about everything they want in exchange for something that is easily taken away when the economy turns. Does DALPA actually believe they will be able to secure these pay hikes when their peers are trailing by several dozen percentage points, and the economy recesses?

We would like to point out that the proposed 2015 pay scales for Delta still fall short of the minimum pay scales proscribed by OPERATION ORANGE’s “Fair Treatment of Experienced Pilots Act – Part 2,” in every aircraft type. Having a legislated minimum wage prohibits another race to the bottom the next time the economy stalls.

Save Our Scope!!!

Our goal is not to cast stones for the sake of casting stones. We are very concerned that pilots across the industry are being distracted by “shiny objects” and are losing sight of what management is trying to do. The 30 year war on airline pilot compensation and working conditions is by no means over. Management is unified in their goals of attaining, one way or another, the scope clauses of the major pilot groups. They must have this control if they are to outsource us from our careers. By having an alternate avenue of providing pilot labor, they can keep us pinned down. We will highlight the problems at the other two major airlines and how scope is the primary driver of what management is doing (bankruptcy for AAL and stalling for UAL). The boards-of-directors and laws have not changed, so the battle still needs to be fought with 2003-2011 in mind.

OPERATION ORANGE is a growing collection of pilots seeking to change the laws governing pilot negotiations and bankruptcy proceedings. By changing the laws, we can finally achieve parity at the bargaining table. Please take the time to read our legislative draft called the “Fair Treatment For Experienced Pilots Act – Part 2.” That proposal changes the way we would negotiate under the RLA.

Delta pilots would not have to fear a 7 year negotiation, and the accompanying stagnation. Our amendment to the RLA forces release from mediation at the 36 month mark from the effective date of any new pilot working agreement. Management would be forced to acquire pilot labor at the prevailing rate, rather than stalling for better times.

It also has many other features, such as a complete rewrite of the new Part 117 fatigue regulations, minimum pay, minimum rigs, mandatory premium pay for high-time flying, whistleblower protection for pilots reporting fatigued or sick, limiting judicial interference with labor disputes, domestic code share limitations, etc.

Your career will be far more secure with a change in the legislation and regulations governing pilot contracts, than opting for business-as-usual. The piloting profession has been destroyed over the past 30 years because the laws are engineered to that end. Change the law, and change your profession.

Please write, call, fax, and visit your elected representatives. You will attain much more by uniting with other pilots to change the law, than you ever will by working within a broken system.

We encourage all Delta pilots to examine OPERATION ORANGE and take a leadership role in securing a genuine future for our profession. Please do not be distracted by ALPA and DAL waiving shiny objects. They have their own agendas.

For more information, please visit www.OPERATIONORANGE.org.

(For a example of what pay and credit would be under OPERATION ORANGE, Click HERE)

(To read OPERATION ORANGE’s legislative draft, CLICK HERE)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to Shiny Objects Syndrome – Part I: The Delta Tentative Agreement

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