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Tue, Aug 24, 2004

American Eagle Pilots Tense As Negotiations Loom

Call On Management To "Do The Right Thing"

As pilot contract negotiations between American Eagle management and its pilots, represented by the ALPA resumed Monday, frustrated pilots called on management to "do the right thing" and take advantage of the remaining 21 days before the deadline for the end of scheduled bargaining on Sept. 12.  Although some progress has been made during the talks, which contractually can only last 150 days, the two parties are far apart on major issues, such as wage rates, retirement, insurance, and scheduling issues.

These negotiations are part of several amendment rounds that were incorporated into the Eagle pilots' 16-year agreement to ensure that its terms and conditions would be adjusted every four years, to keep pace with pilot contracts at peer carriers and to reflect the level of prosperity at American Eagle Airlines.  The pilots provided labor stability when they negotiated the current contract in 1997 in exchange for pay and work rules that would grow with the industry, but that hasn't materialized.

"American Eagle pilots are upset that our contract has not seen any significant improvements in the last seven years," said Captain Herb Mark, chairman of the Eagle pilots' Master Executive Council.  "Despite American Eagle's continuous profits, increased load factors, and expanding fleets, the terms and conditions of our labor agreement have fallen well below those of our industry peers.  Many of our junior pilots are struggling to make ends meet, and our senior pilots cannot afford to retire."

Pilots like Bernie McFadden, a fifth-year, LaGuardia-based first officer, are feeling the pinch.  "With a wife and three kids, it's been a challenge just to get by at times," said McFadden.  "Our pay scales have not kept up with the general cost of living and it's getting more and more expensive to work in New York.  These days, it seems like I spend more time away from my family and have less to show for it," he added.  McFadden receives government health care assistance from the state of New York.

The starting salary for an American Eagle first officer is a trifling $18,400 a year.  Many Eagle pilots board aircraft every week to commute from less expensive cities to major urban centers, where they are based, in order to maintain some quality of life for their families and find affordable housing.

Although the world's largest regional airline continues to thrive financially, much of their success is a direct result of the pilots' professionalism and dedication. The airline is so short on pilots that operations are frequently disrupted and passengers inconvenienced.

Compounding the problem, American Eagle is having difficulty attracting new pilots because of the abysmally low wages and grueling schedules that Eagle is known for in the industry. Even though there are over 11,000 domestic pilots on furlough from other airlines, only a few of them have applied at American Eagle.  In fact, out of the 2,500 pilots furloughed from American Airlines, only 161 have yet elected to take a guaranteed position as captain at American Eagle.

"We've played a major role in our company's success," said Capt. Mark. "It's time for Eagle management to do the right thing by restoring our wages and working conditions to a level both commensurate with our company's growth and profitability and competitive with our competitors' pilot contracts.  We need an agreement that reflects our contributions to American Eagle's success. It's time right now for management to bring serious proposals to the bargaining table that address our pilots' needs," he added.

FMI: www.alpa.org

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