Seniority: An Important Issue for Pilots

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An issue that didn’t get much coverage but is very significant for workers was the issue of seniority for the Reno Air pilots.

Whereas the pilots at American are members of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), the pilots at Reno Air are members of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the AFL-CIO affiliate.

The pilots at Reno, while they certainly want to be brought up to American’s pay scale, are unhappy with APA’s position that they should be integrated into American at the bottom of the company’s seniority list.

This would happen because, according to the norm of mergers in the airline industry, workers coming from an acquired company who are members of a different union than that representing the workers of the acquiring company become members of the acquiring union, but enter the acquiring company as if they were new hires off the street.

This is also true of workers coming from a non-union company.

This is known as “stapling” and differs from “dovetailing,” which occurs with two merging companies with the same union, where the workers from the acquired company carry their old seniority into the acquiring company.

The result of stapling is that some workers lose all the seniority they have gained after years of work, which translates into worse days off, assignments, vacation time, ability to “hold” certain work shifts and stations, and increased vulnerability to being laid off.

It also generally leads to a major cut in salary, given the multitiered wage structure of most airlines.

This situation also applies in cases in which workers lose their jobs at one carrier and start over at another, even one whose workers are represented by the same union they are a member of. Many workers from Eastern, Pan Am, Braniff, etc. have suffered from this.

This division between (and among) unions allows a potential wedge to be driven between workers by the bosses as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy. It also tends to lower wages throughout the industry.

This situation exists mainly due to two factors: one, rival unions seeing each other rather than the boss as the enemy; two, union leaders seeing their members in an industry as employees of separate companies rather than members of one union in one industry.

The seniority issue between American and Reno pilots will probably not be resolved to the satisfaction of the Reno pilots, but to build union strength and solidarity it will be necessary to champion the interests of the worse-off sectors of workers and start to level conditions upward.

One move in this direction would be agreements between unions to respect each others’ seniority lists in the case of mergers.

Another would be for unions to draw up and enforce in contracts a nationwide master seniority list of all union members in an industry. The idea would be to allow workers to retain their seniority when they move, for whatever reason, from one company to another with the same union, and to prioritize hiring of union members currently out of work before hiring off the street.

Something like this used to exist in the maritime industry, so the idea is not new-just largely forgotten. It is past time that unions return to putting their members’ livelihoods above corporate profits.

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