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Friday, September 20, 2013

U.S. Airways And American Airlines Employees Defend Merger Plans

Several hundred employees of American Airlines and U.S. Airways ask members of Congress to support their merger bid. (Peter O'Dowd/KJZZ)

Several hundred employees of American Airlines and U.S. Airways ask members of Congress to support their merger bid. (Peter O’Dowd/KJZZ)

U.S. Airways and American Airlines go to court in November to defend their proposed merger against a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit.

If green-lighted, the merger would create the world’s largest airline.

As the court date approaches, both airlines are stepping up their lobbying efforts. This week, their campaign included an employee fly-in to Washington, D.C. to make their case to policymakers.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Peter O’Dowd of KJZZ reports.

Reporter

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, it's HERE AND NOW. I'm Robin Young.

U.S. Airways and American Airlines go to court in November to defend their proposed merger against a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit. If green-lighted, the merger could create the world's largest airline. As the court date approaches, both companies are stepping up their lobbying. And this week their campaign included an employee fly-in to Washington to make the case to policymakers. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, W - KJZZ's Peter O'Dowd reports.

PETER O'DOWD, BYLINE: Three hundred flight attendants, pilots and ticket agents showed up on Capitol Hill this week. And for a handful of them on a chartered flight from Phoenix, the trip began with a pep talk. US Airways CEO Doug Parker got on the PA before takeoff.

DOUG PARKER: It's nice that you're doing this. It's great for our company that you're doing this. It's nice for people to see how much this means to all of you, which I don't think they fully understand. So anyway, thanks again. Do us proud. Bye.

(APPLAUSE)

O'DOWD: Unions say employees for both airlines are paid far below industry standards, and that's why pilot Salihu Ibrahim is on this flight.

SALIHU IBRAHIM: The prospect of a merger just opens doors up that before would have been shut completely in our faces.

O'DOWD: That's because US Airways pilots are still operating on a bankruptcy contract left over from the days of the last merger with America West back in 2005. Ibrahim says as a rookie US Airways first officer, he made about 3,000 bucks a month. Now, if you were at Delta...

IBRAHIM: Well, let's get a calculator out real quick. Give me one second.

O'DOWD: He punches a few numbers into his phone and figures his Delta equivalent made about $2,000 more every month. Ibrahim says with a family to support and student loans to worry about, the pay isn't competitive.

IBRAHIM: It does nothing for you.

O'DOWD: If the merger goes through, every US Airways pilot gets a 25 percent pay raise, or in some cases even more. If the deal fails, it's the status quo. And it's not just the pilots. A spokesman for the Transport Workers Union says 20,000 of its members at American Airlines will get an immediate 4 percent bump and $26,000 in stock.

ATTORNEY GENERAL TOM HORNE: It probably is in the interest of the employees. And if I were an employee, I'd go on the flight also.

O'DOWD: Arizona's Tom Horne is one of seven attorneys general nationwide that signed on to the Justice Department's lawsuit.

HORNE: But I'm not an employee. I'm the attorney general charged with A) enforcing the antitrust laws, and B) protecting the public interest. And it's not in the interest of the public.

O'DOWD: According to Horne and the federal government, the airlines compete on more than 1,000 routes where one or both offer connecting service. They say reduced competition would lead to higher fares and fees for millions of passengers. And the Consumer Travel Alliance's Charlie Leocha says sending hundreds of airline employees to lobby Congress won't do much to affect November's court case.

CHARLIE LEOCHA: It is actually a dog and pony show. And for them to bring everybody into Washington really won't have any effect on the final outcome of the Department of Justice deliberations.

O'DOWD: That didn't stop uniformed pilots and flight attendants from trying.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: DOJ, say OK. DOJ, say OK. DOJ, say OK.

O'DOWD: They held this rally at the Capitol and met with members of Congress to explain how the merger will stabilize an industry that's been beat up for more than a decade. US Airways spokesman John McDonald was there.

JOHN MCDONALD: It's been losses, it's been job cuts, it's been reductions in service. It's just been horrendous.

O'DOWD: But there is a contingent that worries a merger will continue the bloodbath. In the back of the crowd, a small group of protestors gathered from American Eagle, the regional airline that's owned by American's parent company. They said their flight attendants have so far been left out of any talks about job security or better pay.

Plus, there will be layoffs if this merger goes through. Some non-union employees, people in human resources or accounting, for instance, will almost certainly lose their jobs. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Peter O'Dowd in Washington.

YOUNG: OK. Coming up, what is going on in Greece? Huge unemployment and a rapper is murdered. Are those two things connected? That's in one minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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