Monday, January 27, 2014

ALPA To Pay Half of TWA Settlement But Stays Wholly Unremorseful

If the Air Line Pilots Association has accomplished one thing during its 12-year battle with their members from the former Trans World Airlines, it is this; it saved up money for the rainy day that has arrived. That does not mean, however that the leadership has learned how to be magnanimous in defeat. 

The union has agreed to pay $53 million dollars to settle the long standing lawsuit in which a court found it failed to properly represent the TWA pilots when their company was acquired by American Airlines in 2001. Insurance will fund half of the amount and ALPA the other. But paying up is not the same as fessing up. 



Lee Moak, the ALPA chief responsible for the offer to settle said he didn't believe anyone was harmed by the union's failure to help the TWA pilots secure spots within the American Airlines seniority list. (For the motivation behind that, see previous posts here and here.) 

"I don't believe, nor will I ever believe there was ever an intention of any of the things that were stated," in the lawsuit, Moak told me on Friday. And if a federal jury found otherwise? That is unfortunate, Moak said, but dollars, especially $53 million of them apparently means never having to say you're sorry. 

That's a lot smaller of a sum than what the pilots wanted for the stalled careers and lengthy furloughs that followed when they were tacked to the bottom of the American Airlines seniority list. Then came the terror attacks of 9/11 that sent the aviation industry into a multi-year dive and many of the pilots wound up unemployed. One told me even when he was called back to American, he retired at sixty never having made it to the left seat.

Such are the vagaries on which flying careers are made. From the perspective of the pilots' union, however, the TWA folks, no matter what happened to them after the merger, were lucky that TWA didn't just go bankrupt. Then where would they have been?

All of this pre-dates Moak's tenure as head of the 50-thousand member union. But it has dogged him nonetheless. What to do about the lawsuit has been one of many problems with which  he  has been dealing."I inherited this and now I think I've settled it fairly." 

I asked Moak why the ALPA announcement to its members sounded so victorious considering that it was on the losing side.  


 "I don't look at is as a victory," Moak said. "From a business viewpoint this was the right decision to make at this moment in time." The announcement is intended to assure members that dues will not rise and there will be no special assessment. Nor will ALPA lay off employees, or be forced to economize in other ways. "We have approximately $120 million in revenue," Moak said. "We had planned for this for an extended period of time and now we've taken care of it." 

All except for the "I'm sorry" part. 

Alan Altman, now with JetBlue used to fly for TWA and as far as he is concerned, the ALPA payout doesn't set things right.  

"An apology would go a long way,"  Altman said, especially since Moak wasn't personally involved in the decision making at the heart of the case. Altman is also able to separate animosity for the union from what he says are its positive contributions to the profession. "Their aero-medical folks, their safety folks, those groups are amazing," he told me. 

Fifty-three million may buy an end to the litigation. Too bad ALPA didn't throw a little remorse in too. With that, it might have truly settled the dispute.





Post a Comment