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American Airlines Unions Protest Bankruptcy Terms

Hundreds of protesting American Airlines workers marched to sway the public in the battle over their jobs and benefits. Bankrupt American Airlines says it must severely slash workers and pensions to successfully emerge from Chapter 11. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports union members don’t buy it.

Chant: We are the union, mighty, mighty union…

Many flight attendants and Transport Workers marching at D/FW Airport’s Terminal D say they’ve done this before; marching for jobs, pensions, and medical benefits. That was nine years ago, when they gave up pay, some benefits and more, to keep American Airlines out of bankruptcy. Now, the carrier wants 13,000 more workers and a bevy of benefits to go if the company is to grow and thrive. Employees, like John Borges, with the Transport Workers Union, says not so fast.

John Borges: Our members have sacrificed a lot to keep this company operating. We would like to keep the jobs we have in place.

Borges’ union, the TWU, faces 9,000 job cuts by American, more than any group. Beth Smajstrla, long time flight attendant, says it doesn’t have to be that way. She says there’s room - and time - to negotiate before a final bankruptcy plan. Especially, she says, because the company filed for Chapter 11 with $4 billion dollars in the bank.

Smajstrla: This is a bankruptcy of choice not of need. If you look at the war chest of American, they’ve got a lot of cash. They’re financing their own bankruptcy, so you tell me, do they need to ask us to pay, or do they have money?

Some on this informational picket line say they’re marching with and for their union members. But they don’t have much hope of swaying the company. Instead, flight attendant Deborah Chasczewski says she hopes to convince the public.

Deborah Chasczewski: Public response does have some say I think into how things should be handled. These are deep cuts that will impact our lives and our future so we’re hoping the public will see that.

Grabbing a smoke outside, passenger Kevin, who didn’t give his last name, says he’s a member of the public uninfluenced by this event.

Kevin: That’s it, just going from point A to point B.

While Kevin says he doesn’t care about the issues, Venezuelan traveler Jonathan Marciano says he does.

Marciano: They’re not going to pay pensions for all these workers. And I feel sorry for them. I see years of service of these workers, it has impacted me.

Passenger Peter Marshall, a trucking executive on his way home to Los Angeles, says public opinion won’t be as important as enlightened self interest between unions and management.

Marshall: There needs to be a re-engineering on both sides of the fence. Although I do believe at end of day, there needs to be an understanding that to be competitive, with the business traveler like myself, there’s going to have to be a new model created that allows for the continued growth and development of the industry. It’s critical to our economy.

None of this surprised American Airlines. In a statement, the carrier’s Bruce Hicks said restructuring is difficult but necessary, and every employee group, including unions and management, will be affected. Hicks added all unions are negotiating changes with the carrier to make American successful, with the hope of reaching agreements in the next few weeks.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.