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The US Airways-American merger helps 70,000 workers

By Gary Hummel and Roger Holmin
Special to the Observer

Labor Day is a time of reflection for the nation’s union members. We celebrate the labor movement’s achievements for all workers and renew our fight for workplace protections and wages and benefits to support our families. As representatives of more than 70,000 American Airlines and US Airways employees, we look to the pending merger of our two airlines as an outstanding example of how much workers, acting together, can accomplish in today’s economic environment.

All of our members have been hurt by a turbulent aviation industry in recent years. Labor and airline shareholders bore the brunt of the economic losses of the past decade. American Airlines entered bankruptcy in late 2011, and the stakes were incredibly high. American unions are some of the largest creditors in the bankruptcy, and we also had to think about the best long-term option for job security for more than 50,000 American Airlines union members.

To that end we hired top-tier financial and legal advisors, reviewed American’s financial and operational prospects from every possible angle and determined that a merger with US Airways was the path that had to be taken. It was the only option that would allow American to compete effectively against carriers that had substantially larger networks – networks that were the product of the government-approved mergers of Delta and Northwest, United and Continental, and Southwest and Air Tran. We understood that if American left bankruptcy as a stand-alone carrier, inevitably it along with tens of thousands of jobs would not survive.

Likewise, the unions at US Airways have sacrificed tremendously over the last decade, having gone through two bankruptcies’ and given back billions of dollars in concessions in the form of pay, retirement and work rule changes just to survive. Labor at US Airways recognized the significant benefits of the merger. That is why our members have shown – and continue to show – unprecedented support for this combination.

Unfortunately, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop exactly what is good for both workers and passengers.

This merger is about growth. By combining our complementary route networks, we are creating significant consumer benefits through more choices and better service. Consumers will have a new alternative and a more competitive airline to take on the country’s largest air carriers and a number of fast-growing low-cost carriers, including Virgin America, JetBlue, Spirit, and Allegiant. In this global airline industry the merger will also mean the new American Airlines will be better positioned to earn the business of consumers at home and abroad in the face of stiff competition from international carriers.

As labor, we have never lost sight of the fact that the security of our jobs depends on the success of our company, and that success depends on the public filling our planes. That is why we have so vigorously embraced the merger – it is the only solution that serves the interests of all three constituencies; employees, shareholders and passengers.

By moving to block this merger, the DOJ wants to maintain the status quo, leaving consumers with limited choices and US Airways and American with a severe disadvantage in attracting more customers.

Yet with the previous mergers, the DOJ was not bound by the status quo; instead it reconfigured the industry. All that the 70,000 employees of American and US Airways ask is that we be given comparable footing on the competitive landscape the government created. Put simply, we just want the same opportunity to compete for the more than 736 million passengers that fly in the U.S. each year.

We have supported the merger of American Airlines and US Airways because it is the best outcome for our members and consumers. We are not about to quit now. As we reflect on this Labor Day weekend, our unified voices call on the DOJ to let us compete as the New American Airlines so we can provide consumers the choices and services they want. Let the merger move forward so that 70,000 workers can enjoy the job security that only an effective competitor can offer.

The following union officials signed on to this column: Laura Glading, Association of Professional Flight Attendants; Roger Holmin, Association of Flight Attendants; Gary Hummel, President, US Airline Pilots Association; Garry Drummond, Transport Workers Union of America; Bill Gray, Transport Workers Union of America; Velvet Hawthorne, Communications Workers of America.
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