POSTED ON FEBRUARY 8, 2012:
Specter of layoffs settles over Tulsa despite cooperative efforts from AA union
The news came down on Feb. 1. American Airlines, the largest employer in northeast Oklahoma for the past 65 years, will attempt to lay off more than 2,000 employees in the Tulsa area.
A letter from Tom Horton, the chairman and chief executive officer of American Airlines, addressed "Dear American Team," was sent out last Wednesday. The three-page letter is littered with public relations euphemisms but makes its intentions clear: "Change -- a necessity not a choice."
The letter details the changes the company will make to "renew and optimize our fleet," "build the scale of our network and alliances," and "modernize our brand, products and services."
Essentially, to maximize profits, AA will be making "necessary employee related changes."
Transport Workers Union Local 514 organizer Rick Mullings wasn't surprised by the news, but he's not happy either. The union, he said, is "going to negotiate the numbers [of layoffs] to try to lessen the blow."
No matter how it's negotiated, the Tulsa area will take a hit once American Airlines slashes hundreds of well-paying, middle-class jobs that have supported Green Country and helped the area prosper for more than half a century.
New York City-based PR firm Weber Shandwick sent out a summary of what they politely termed "expected employee reductions," a series of daunting numbers. Approximate company-wide layoffs include: 4,200 fleet service and other TWU workers; 2,300 flight attendants; 1,400 management and support staffers; 4,600 mechanics and "related"; 400 pilots. In total, 13,000 may lose their jobs.
The two areas expected to see the deepest cuts -- fleet service, TWU workers and mechanics -- are the types of jobs most often held in the Tulsa area. They are also the jobs many other airlines have already outsourced to South America and China.
So it's no wonder that less than two days after Tulsa labor officials announced the launch of ISupportAmericanJobs.com, more than 5,000 people have pledged their support for AA workers.
"This is not only about our relatives, friends and neighbors who work at American Airlines, it's about the trickle down impact to the Tulsa economy," said Sam Cirri, president of the local Transport Workers Union, which represents about 5,600 airline mechanics and related workers in Tulsa.
"Car dealerships, restaurants, retailers and many other businesses will feel the pain if our Tulsa workforce is reduced or outsourced. It's critical that our elected officials and community leaders fight to keep these jobs local."
To understand why union leaders feel the proposed layoffs are a slap in the face, we must know a little about their history. Organizer Mullings said the story begins on Sept. 11, 2001. Just weeks before the terrorist attacks, the union and AA agreed on a new contract. "It was one of the best the industry had ever seen," Mullings said.
Though 9/11 proved the industry was in trouble, the contract passed. And life was good, at least until 2003. American was bleeding money and needed help, so the three unions gave back $1.6 billion in concessions, pay, benefits and rules.
American is claiming that labor and payroll is the problem, Mullings said, though labor costs have only gone up $100,000 in ten years. In a nationwide business, $100,000 couldn't cover cost of living increases or inflation.
To avoid layoffs, the workers were willing to help reorganize, to give back in terms of wages and benefits, to save money for the company. AA management and unions made a point of working together through the tough post-9/11 times.
But with a new CEO came a new philosophy, said Mullings. Horton and other upper-level managers "were not interested" in working together anymore. "He never called the union [about filing bankruptcy]. They just filed it and pulled the trigger," he said.
The area with the fewest targeted layoffs (besides pilots) is management, the most bloated part of the company, according to Mullings. American has hired on three separate businesses to "tell management how to manage," Mullings said. "They managed them into bankruptcy."
So what will happen when American slashes hundreds and hundreds of jobs in the Tulsa area? "Green Country will suffer," Mullings said. The tax base will shrink and "we'll feel a pinch like never before," he said.
American is heading into bankruptcy court with high-dollar attorneys and New York public relations firms by their side. As for Green Country workers, they're relying on public support. To support your friends, family and neighbors, check out ISupportAmericanJobs.com to tell public officials, news media and community leaders that employees at American Airlines, American Eagle and all workers dependent on these airlines must be treated fairly.
Pledge your support for no attacks on pension funds and no outsourcing of good-paying American jobs.
Want to read more about American Airlines and their bankruptcy and pending job losses? Check out UTW's upcoming cover story on these issues and more, on stands Feb. 16.
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