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9/23/2004

News > News

NASTY SKIES

 

After six years of demotions, cutbacks and intimidation from corporate headquarters, the unionized pilots of Pan American Airlines fought back, and won.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), a union representing 64,000 airline pilots and 42 United States and Canadian carriers, was granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the parent company of Pan American Airlines Sept. 17, after 30 Pan Am pilots based in Sanford reported anti-union activities within the company.

Pan Am began service out of Key West in 1927, the first American airline to fly a permanent international route. It went out of business twice, and the trademark – the name and logo – is now owned by Guilford Transportation. In 1998, Guilford chairman Timothy Mellon purchased bankrupt Carnival Air Lines and turned it into Pan Am.

One year later, the company formed another airline called Boston-Maine. Almost all of the 30 pilots flying the Pan Am planes previously worked for Carnival. And although Guilford is based out of New Hampshire, the majority of pilots affected by this dispute fly from Sanford.

Pan Am pilots say Guilford's management was trying to oust ALPA as the exclusive collective-bargaining representative by diverting Pan Am schedules and planes to Guilford's nonunionized alter ego, Boston-Maine.

Boston-Maine, which was "started from scratch" according to Guilford's management, was set up to fly turboprop planes over short routes. But Guilford began switching both Pan Am flying routes and Boeing 727s to Boston-Maine and its pilots, according to the judge's ruling.

A Sanford-based pilot, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, says Guilford management was open about their disdain for the union.

"Guilford doesn't want to be told what to do," he says. "Anytime a pilot tries to file a grievance, they are either escorted off the property by police or their phone calls are simply ignored. Guilford also refuses to enter into negotiations, which it is obligated under its agreement to do."

The pilot, who has worked for Pan Am since '98, says his quality of life has been hurt.

"Most of the pilots flying for Pan Am have earned a great deal of seniority through many years of flying. The most senior pilots always receive first pick of their routes, as well as higher pay," he says. "Our schedules at Pan Am are completely unreliable now because they're often given to Boston-Maine pilots at the last minute. This makes it very difficult to plan our weeks or be with our families."

Guilford has a history of firing and demoting high-ranking union officials, according to ALPA lawyers.

"Pan Am's systematic ouster and downgrading of union leaders has created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation so pervasive that Pan Am pilots are now unwilling to take on any ALPA leadership positions," states the motion.

According to testimony, Guilford president David Fink regularly expressed disdain for ALPA, referring to it as "Alpo" and calling leaders "union jackasses."

The motion claimed that Guilford developed a scheme to diminish the unionized Pan Am by shifting aircraft and schedules over to the non-unionized Boston-Maine.

"Mr. Fink has specifically referred to this plan [to do away with the union] as his 'Emmett Kelly routine,' invoking the memory of the late clown who famously used to sweep a spotlight with an old broom, until the spotlight became smaller and smaller and eventually disappeared," said the motion.

Linda Toth, Pan Am's former Southern regional manager, testified that she trained Boston-Maine employees after leaving Pan Am. She also testified that between March and April of 2004, Fink told her "it was going to be smooth sailing with Boston-Maine" after they got rid of "the union jackasses," and that within six months all the Pan Am planes would be flying under the Boston-Maine certificate.

Fink declined to comment for this story.

ALPA also presented into evidence a memo on Pan Am stationery sent to Pan Am flight attendants June 1, encouraging them to send their résumés to Boston-Maine.

Guilford's general counsel, John Nadolny, said in court that Guilford had lost money on Pan Am since 1998. He also said Boston-Maine was separate from Pan Am in every way.

But U.S. District Judge James R. Muirhead didn't buy it, saying the evidence showed Boston-Maine used Pan Am employees to train their personnel, and that the two companies entered into a support services and facilities agreement in October 2001.

Despite the unfair treatment, the Pan Am pilot says quitting is not an option.

"Most of us are living here in Sanford and there aren't a lot of job openings to fly for other airlines," he says. "Furthermore, most of us are topped out on the pay scale, making an average of $120,000 a year with a high level of seniority. We all have families to support, and taking a job for a lot less money or being uprooted from our homes would be very disruptive."

He adds, "No one really knows why Guilford is trying to destroy our union. It's probably because they don't like answering to a union, they want to be the ones running the show. Why would they be running the third largest trademark in the world – Pan Am – into the ground?"

Muirhead granted ALPA's motion for an injunction, filed in New Hampshire district court, stating, "In the Court's view, ALPA's claim that the defendants are engaged in a scheme to shut down unionized Pan Am, and intentionally eliminate ALPA in the process, involves a direct attempt to destroy a union."

The judge ordered Guilford to immediately restore pay rates and working conditions for Pan Am employees. They were also ordered not to transfer Pan Am planes to Boston-Maine.

"They have no marketing talent, and the passion for customer satisfaction is definitely not a company priority," says the pilot. "I'm actually embarrassed to tell people where I work. I never thought it would come to that."

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