Sept. 20--American Airlines pilots picketed at O'Hare International Airport Thursday, protesting the recent imposition of pay and benefits cuts while supporting a merger with US Airways.
The demonstration occurred as American canceled hundreds of flights this week, saying pilots are partly to blame. The pilots deny that.
"American pilots want to work for an airline that is vibrant and growing, and American's standalone plan is just not working," said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which supports a combination with US Airways. American's parent AMR Corp., in bankruptcy reorganization, is in talks with US Airways. "The act of throwing our contract into the trash can is a motivating issue here."
About 200 members of the union, representing the 10,000 pilots who fly for American, marched Thursday afternoon between Terminals 2 and 3. Pilots claim the new contract terms, with pay and benefit cuts approved by a bankruptcy judge, are an effort by management to use the company's Chapter 11 reorganization "to extract far more value from the pilots than what's needed to successfully restructure American Airlines."
American denied that, saying in a statement that its plan "was thoughtfully and methodically developed, ensuring changes to pilots' terms and conditions of employment are in line with the cost savings [the bankruptcy judge] agreed the company needed in order to successfully restructure."
American's pilots voted in August to reject a tentative contract from the airline. It has since called for a strike-authorization vote, a preliminary step to a walkout.
American said of the picketing that it respects "the right of our unions and their members to voice their opinions" and that its goal is to reach an agreement with pilots.
The dispute has been highlighted as one of the factors for rampant cancellations of American Airlines flights this week.
American has canceled 283 flights since Sunday, more than triple the number of any other airline, according to FlightAware.com. The company has said cancellations were due in part to more pilots calling in sick and an increase in maintenance reports filed by pilots. The airline said it has "carefully selected some 300 flights this week to pre-cancel to allow us to reaccommodate passengers in advance" and will reduce its systemwide schedule through October by 1 to 2 percent, it said.
However, the pilots union said Thursday it has not sanctioned a work action, such as a "sick out," and that pilot sick rates "have not deviated from normal historical rates." "APA members are experienced professionals who conduct themselves as professionals under whatever circumstances they encounter," the union said in a statement.
In response, American said pilot sick levels are up more than 20 percent over last year. "We are confident in the causes of the recent operational challenges of flight cancellations and delays. Prior to the recent issues, American had been running a good operation, with on-time performance and reliability measures at their best levels in many years," the airline said in a statement.
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