If American Airlines Is Going to Screw Anyone, It Should Screw 'Em All

American Airlines wants to ditch all of its labor contracts. I wonder a couple things about that. But first: I do get what bankruptcy is.

It's pushing back the creditors. I get that. Maybe everybody signed deals that were too generous, back in the fat days. Now somebody doesn't want to renegotiate, because he's paranoid somebody else will get full pay. I get that, too. Bankruptcy is the time-out corner for business.

But isn't it the whole point to make sure everybody gets treated the same? That's all I wonder about here.

Where are the stories telling me that American Airlines wants to bust all of its purchase agreements with the airplane makers, including what they owe on planes already delivered? What about professional services, like law firms and outside engineers? We're going to see those deals ripped, too, right? By the same amounts, right?

The union leaders at American have been saying that management wants to tear the wage structure down to what they describe as less than industry standard. And maybe that's how it's gotta be.

But if that's how it's gotta be, I sure hope the company intends to pay below industry standard for lawyers, contract engineers, interior decorators, business travel and ... let's see, who else is on the tit ... oh, yeah, American Airlines executives.

What bothers me is a certain cultural assumption that it's OK to go after the unions with a meat-ax before you even give the vendors and the top dogs a haircut. And I hasten to say, if that is a cultural assumption that's sort of ambient out there, I still can't assign it to American necessarily. Yet.

Maybe they won't turn out to feel that way. Maybe next time we see the top brass on television, they'll all be wearing barber smocks and have shears in their hands, hungry to go after the people who sold them their airplanes.

I just don't see it so far. It's all about kicking the unions in the ass. First. So I ask again. Why is that OK?

Please don't tell me that giving everybody else a haircut would hamper the company's ability to come out of bankruptcy and perform well, but screwing long-term loyal employees will not. Those employees made that company great, every bit as much as management did. It was a two-way street and a joint deal from the beginning.

Shafting the employees will have every bit as devastating an effect on the company's ability to perform in the future as shafting vendors and lawyers. That's why people try to avoid bankruptcy. It hurts, all the way around. But putting the torch to your agreements with your own people hurts you every bit as much as burning up the bills you get from your suppliers.

Look, mine is a modest request. Please, American: Tell us who else you intend to screw. If it's an across-the-board haircut and everybody winds up with the same bald buzz, then I guess it's your business, and good luck.

But if it's just a case of chopping the unions off at the knees because you think that's somehow more acceptable than chopping off other obligations, then that's another matter entirely.

That's a political statement -- one that people will need to keep in mind every time they make travel arrangements.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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