Monday, January 10, 2011

The B-Scale Plague

American Airlines adopted the benchmark B-scale in November 1983, permanently reducing pay for newly hired pilots by 50 percent. In fact, under the AA system—negotiated while the Seham firm sat on the labor side of the table—pay rates and pensions for new employees would never merge with those of then-current employees.

Martin Seham wrote proudly of this accomplishment in Cleared for Takeoff: Airline Labor Relations Since Deregulation.

As general counsel to the Allied Pilots Association (APA), the independent certified representative of the American Airlines pilots, I was close to the negotiations that resulted, in 1983, in one of the earliest realization[s] of the two-tier system. APA was not faced with an insolvent or failing carrier; it was, however, forced to deal with an economic environment that had changed dramatically because of the effects of deregulation and was, by virtue of its independence, mandated to reach an agreement consistent with the needs and objectives of its constituency. — Martin C. Seham


Although B-scales were not a new concept, their initial format was unique to the airline industry. Following American’s lead, other airlines began to demand similar packages—forcing the entire airline labor movement into a new era of concessions. Good for management; bad for pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and all of the airline industry’s workers.

While ALPA pilots were forced to deal with this blight brought to the industry by APA and the Sehams, not one ALPA pilot group accepted a non-merging two-tier scale. The clearest example of this was the ALPA strike at United in June 1985, when the pilots refused to agree to a non-merging two-tier pay scale.

Ironically, it was ALPA’s success in preventing implementation of the Seham B-scale at UAL that led to the Rakestraw case, where replacement pilots who crossed the picket line attempted to reverse ALPA’s successful efforts to negotiate seniority protection for hundreds of pro-ALPA new-hires who had refused management’s demand to become strikebreakers. DPA’s law firm now misinterprets and misrepresents this case—in which ALPA protected pilots who adhered to union principle and honored picket lines—as somehow giving it carte blanche to change seniority as it sees fit. To read more, click here.

In fact, following ALPA’s win at United, ALPA pilot groups, through their strength at the bargaining table, led the effort to eliminate the B-scale structure. They did it by working together, forging a pattern and sticking to it—the same way ALPA pilots throughout our industry are working to rebuild our contracts after the era of bankruptcy and ATSB constraints.