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American Airlines harassing its Pilots

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Jan 11, 2002
MIAMI (Reuters) -

At a time when airline safety and security is under increased scrutiny, the union for American Airlines' 11,000 pilots said on Tuesday the company is harassing and intimidating pilots who criticize its commitment to safety.

Three pilots have been subjected to disciplinary hearings in recent months for wearing uniforms during media appearances in which they expressed concerns about safety practices, Allied Pilots Association officials told a news conference at which they wore their uniforms.

One of them, Miami-based Capt. Rich Rubin, is one of the airline's most vocal critics. He filed a whistle-blower complaint last year alleging American was manipulating pilots' schedules in a way that risked flight fatigue.

"We believe that American's focus on our uniforms is nothing more than a ruse ... to intimidate our representatives and silence our safety concerns," Rubin said.

Karen Watson, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp., denied the company was trying to silence critics.

"Absolutely not. The issue is violating the policy on wearing the uniforms," she said. "There were other pilots who said the same things (out of uniform) and were not disciplined."

Union officials said American pilots have worn their uniforms off duty for decades in media appearances, during lobbying campaigns, at labor negotiations, at weddings and funerals without protest from the company.

They conceded that a regulation exists on paper prohibiting pilots from wearing uniforms off duty, but the fact that American has never enforced the rule effectively gave them "past practice" rights to wear them until the union and airline agree to change the status quo during negotiations.

Union officials have raised two primary safety issues at American recently -- pilot fatigue and the unexplained crash of an American Airlines Airbus A300-600 last year in New York.

The union and the carrier have long been at odds over pilot fatigue, which was cited by investigators in the 1999 crash of an American jetliner in Little Rock, Arkansas. The industry is waging a court battle to block rules that would limit a pilot's work day to 16 hours and Rubin is the union's point-man on flight duty time issues at American.

Some APA members want federal regulators to consider grounding American's fleet of 34 Airbus A300-600s until questions about its safety are resolved. But union leaders say they are still taking the position that the A300 is safe.

Rubin said he was called in to a disciplinary hearing after appearing in uniform with two other pilots on Jan. 18 at a demonstration outside the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. During the demonstration Rubin said that American was wrong to oppose a 16-hour workday for pilots.

Rubin said his supervisor put a reprimand letter in his personnel file, one step in a lengthy process toward termination. Neither of the other pilots who appeared in uniform at the demonstration was disciplined, he said.

"It's obvious that our leaders are being targeted when they voice concerns about safety issues," Rubin said.

Watson said American has applied the uniform policy in the past but is not aware of every situation where an employee wears a uniform off duty.

"It's a policy that's been on the books for years. We've reminded pilots of the policy," she said. "When we see the problem we address it. We simply don't know about all the incidents."
It seems to me the airlines recognize that they are in trouble.

They were before 9/11 and they are in “worse” shape after 9/11. Pilots have been war-hooping about the security issue for as long as I can remember and the fatigue issue is nothing new. I remember a Delta Captain who aborted an ATL-NRT, MD-11 run and landed in PDX due to the lack of adequate crew rest facilities aboard the plane for the 14 hour trip after Delta had snatched them out and stuffed in more Biz-Elite seats in favor of a crew bunk.

I consider an airline employee going on a TV show in uniform no different than informational picketing by the same employees, (in uniform) at the ‘port. The airlines are just screaming cause that have finally been put into a corner and the public has now awoke and is beginning to listen to those two dudes or dudettes that drive the bus, instead of rolling their eyes each and everytime a cabin announcement is made, cause we interrupted their beauty sleep or the latest airing of Oprah on the inflight-tv or something.

The airlines understand one thing, MONEY! And as of late they are hearing the public voting with their wallet, especially the bread and butter last minute business pax, and the pax are beginning to listen when a pilot speaks. The airlines show take note and listen as well.

They are not your enemy they are your asset, realize this and there is no issue you cannot overcome.


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