DALLAS – On April 16, the last major union at American Airlines (AA) caved in to demands that they take huge wage concessions and layoffs. The next day they learned that 45 of the top executives at AMR Corporation, the airline’s parent company, had given themselves big retention bonuses.

For several months, unions representing AA pilots, flight attendants and ground crews, had been “softened up” by threats that the company would go bankrupt and lay off even more workers. The workers also knew that AMR was begging for government relief in more than one way: They wanted another big handout of tax money and changes in the Railway Labor Act to weaken the unions. News that unions at United Air Lines were taking concessions created more pressure. The Dallas newspaper joined the chorus to panic the airline workers and the community with an editorial insisting that the workers at American accept the concessions demanded by the airline. AA is the largest employer in North Texas.

Even after months of pressure, the unionized workers resisted and insisted that management open the books to union scrutiny. Afterward, they agreed to hold an election to determine the members’ will. On April 15, unions representing pilots and ground crews ratified the concession contracts but the flight attendants, represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, turned it down by a narrow 9,842 – 9,309 margin. At the insistence of AA management the union agreed to revote on April 16 that approved the concessions by an equally narrow margin of 10,761 – 9,652. The same day AA stock price rose 40 percent.

But the story was not finished. AMR management had waited until the vote was announced before filing important legal documents. When sharp-eyed union leaders scrutinized the new papers, they discovered that AMR management had secretly prepared bonuses for themselves in the event that they took the bankruptcy option.

Union leaders immediately demanded that the bonuses be rescinded. John Ward, AOFA president called the scheme to line the pockets of a few top executives in the event the company filed for bankruptcy, “a slap in the face to very working person who wears an AA uniform. It’s the equivalent of an obscene gesture from management to employees, especially after the gut-wrenching decision thousands of Flight Attendants and other union employees at American Airlines made in just the last two days.”

Although the company claims to have rescinded the bonuses, the APFA governing board has scheduled a third vote. “American’s action is too little and came too late,” George Price, the unions communications director told the World on April 21. Price said the union had unearthed several other flaws in the company’s proposal that had been added after the second vote was taken. “We will vote sometime after April 23.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org