Turns out that it isn’t just frequent flyers disappointed with the status of their "lifetime" benefits who are turning to the courts. A group of pilots for American Airlines is suing the company and their union, claiming that the plans to close their St. Louis crew base will cause them damages in the form of significantly reduced seniority as they are transferred to other crew bases. These pilots joined American when the remnants of TWA were purchased by AMR, the parent company of American Airlines.
The crux of the issue seems to hinge on the seniority integration process which was undertaken when the TWA crews were merged into the AA workforce. Their seniority at TWA was, for the most part, trashed and they started again from the bottom. The only small win they had was that the St. Louis base was kept and their seniority from TWA was valid so long as they remained at that station. Should it be closed, however, that seniority will disappear.
According to a report out of St. Louis:
The plaintiffs contend the American pilots’ union imposed a "grossly unfair seniority integration" on the former TWA pilots in 2001 and has breached its duty of fair representation by agreeing to end the St. Louis protections.
The lawsuit also contends American colluded with the union to unfairly represent the former TWA pilots by agreeing to an agreement that would bar an arbitrator from restoring those pilots’ seniority.
American Airlines pilot Tom Hoban, communications chairman for the Allied Pilots Association, said the assertions in the lawsuit are "simply false."
Hoban said the airline also has talked about closing crew bases in Washington and Boston and the union pilots "have no say in it."
I certainly can understand the frustrations of the pilots in this case, but it seems to me their issue is with the union, not the airline. I doubt that the airline cares too much how the pilots arrange themselves in the hierarchy of bidding priority, so long as they all agree on the rules. It isn’t too much of a surprise that the AA pilots wanted to protect their seniority when the TWA integration occurred, but it does present an interesting question with respect to how the unions work: Who are they actually looking out for? In this case it seems that some of their members are much more equal than others.