Bob Crandall’s letter to a disgruntled American pilot

American’s operations have been a mess for the past couple of weeks as their pilots staged “sickouts” as a way of protesting American’s “last best and final offer” of their contract (and their general frustration with the airline). One pilot wrote a letter to Bob Crandall, American’s former CEO, and received a very interesting response. I highly recommend checking out both of the letters here, as it’s a very interesting read.

I actually ran into Bob Crandall at the Admirals Club in Chicago last year, and to say he got a warm reception would be an understatement.

Comments

  1. As someone who does labor relations (management side) for a living, and with 10 years of experience negotiating with unions on behalf of management, I thought this was really interesting, and validated many of the concerns I’ve had about airline labor relations. Particularly, the comment:

    “Over the years, and in recent months, there has been a great deal of discussion about the word “respect”. It’s an important issue, since every one of us desires and deserves respect from our colleagues and our leaders. It’s also something that requires careful definition. When two groups have differing opinions on a subject, the disagreement implies nothing except that there are multiple views about the probable results of a particular decision. During my years at American, I was often frustrated by the fact that however courteously a negative response to a particular proposal was couched, the response was characterized as disrespectful.

    Here’s the bottom line on “Respect”. Every employee – from fleet service to chairman – deserves the respect of every other employee. Respect requires courtesy, and any employee, or any employee group that speaks ill of another renounces their own claim to either. And finally, respect implies a willingness to settle disputes within the context of the protocols of law and process that free societies from the grip of anarchy.”

    This is not respect. It is a part of it, but the parts that are left out are the most important parts. In a corporation, respect is characterized by courtesy, and politeness, and lip service, while someone higher up makes the tough decisions. It is not typically characterized by consensus.

    In labor relations, politeness (and neatness!) counts, but doesn’t mean a whole lot on its own. No union, anywhere, is going to see a proposal to eliminate dues check-off (the automatic deduction of union dues from the paycheck, which must be authorized by the CBA) as something respectful. I don’t care how nicely you write it, or how you justify it. Crandall doesn’t seem to get this.

    Respect involves listening to the other side, rather than assuming what they are going to say and formulating a response while they are talking.

    Respect involves putting yourself in the other side’s shoes, and understanding all the consequences on THEM, of your proposal. And it involves genuine questions about the other side’s proposals, so that you understand what they are trying to accomplish – not just what they are trying to say.

    It involves spontaneous assistance for the other side, when doing so would not cause an undue burden.

    It requires a genuine search for consensus, where both sides can claim victory for the resulting agreement. Which requires you to understand that labor relations is not a zero sum game. Both sides can (and should) be able to take pride in the agreement, without feeling like they were pressured, beat up or simple ran out of time/money/support/will.

    It requires honesty – and not just honesty in what you say, but also in what you mean, and what you expect to happen. If you are engaging in ‘gotcha’ negotiations, you are going to be angry and frustrated when it is used against you.

    It takes mutual trust, which can be built quickly, but it can be destroyed even more quickly. And everyone on your team has to buy into this – you cannot expect to maintain trust by blaming others in your company. And simply saying that a characterization of the pilots as ‘bricks’ is inappropriate and was made by someone who is no longer with the company, is insufficient. Such a comment is simply wrong, and it is insulting, and worthy of an apology from someone in the c-suite. Anything less is disrespectful. 🙂

    And it takes a belief that both sides, while they may have different individual goals, are invested fully in the future of the company.

    Is there a way to fix airline labor relations? I have no idea – but watching them try is like watching a blind person searching for something that they wouldn’t recognize, even if they found it.

  2. This is an excellent analysis, Tor. I was also surprised at the tone of Crandall’s letter, which sounded more combative and dismissive than respectful, especially by his own definition.

  3. I also did not see him address the network deficiencies. I did the status match and will fly enough for keeping EXP for 2013 but will have a hard time doing this going forward with their very limited options going to Europe.

  4. Don’t think he said anything surprising in the response… pretty much common sense, what any businessman worth his salt would believe.

    Did the pilot really think Crandall would approve of the rejection of the LBFO, and then validate the current industrial actions, which are tarnishing AA’s reputation?

  5. @German Expat — Don’t worry about the route network to Europe. They have a plan to fix that, and it’s called US Airways. I’m more concerned about how they will ever build up a route network to Asia.

  6. One other thing that is generally missing (in my perspective) from airline labor relations (and other areas) is an internal corporate recognition that positive labor relations has a value. Ideally, they should attempt to quantify that present value, so that when someone proposes to trash what you have, you can point out that they are costing the company real money – not just hurt feelings. Some people in corporations don’t understand value unless it can be quantified… How much has Southwest saved based on their labor relations policies vs. the legacy carriers? I would guess that Southwest would put that number in the seven figures, at least.

  7. Obviously the pilots are also disrespecting the group that is paying them – the customers. Not to mention what are they going to do quit and work for someone else for more money? There aren’t other options for most of them. Sure you want quality pilots since safety is important but a number of other jobs protect people and get significantly less pay.

    I’m a firm believe that the whole system of paying pilots/FAs has to be rethought and something completely different implemented.

    I also think a merger with US Airways is inevitable (not that it is necessarily a good thing).

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