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Entries in Allegheny-Mohawk Labor Protective Provisions (2)

Monday
Sep272010

Southwest Puts Its Money to Work – Announces Intention to Buy AirTran

In March of this year, I wrote a blog titled:   Dear Southwest: Grab Your Bag of Fiction; It’s On.  This widely-read piece was about Southwest’s role in the proposed US Airways – Delta slot swap transaction. “If Southwest wants to gain entry to the few remaining slot controlled airports,” I wrote at the time, “Then it should make the incumbents an offer – one that provides the slot holder a return on that carrier’s prior investment.”

Well today, Southwest announced an investment – a $1.4 billion investment – in purchasing AirTran Airways, lock, stock and landing slots.  And that is what I was pining for in that post.  That is, I believe Southwest should pay, not get something for free or at some rock bottom price for assets the incumbents paid dearly for over the years. With AirTran come slots at New York’s LaGuardia and Washington’s Reagan National Airports.  Along with slots, Southwest gains meaningful entry into the one remaining legacy carrier hub where it offers no service – Atlanta.  It also gains entry into Charlotte, a US Airways hub.

Should Delta at Atlanta and US Airways at Charlotte be concerned with this transaction?  No, and there are a number of reasons why not.  First and foremost, the network carriers already compete with the low cost sector for nearly 85 percent of their domestic revenues.  Whereas AirTran serves 37 markets that Southwest does not serve, some of them smaller, there will be some new competition for passengers in those markets.  But for the most part, those cities already enjoy the low fares delivered via AirTran’s initial entry.  A second consideration is that while Delta and US Airways depend on local traffic at Atlanta and Charlotte, each are major connecting complexes and are not solely reliant on originating passengers.

If you ask me, the losers in this announcement are not the network carriers but rather Frontier and Spirit.  jetBlue will survive just fine.  But Frontier is now confined to one [maybe two] traffic base for all intents and purposes.  And that makes them vulnerable.  As for Spirit, which just announced its intentions to launch a $300 million Initial Public Offering, it is one thing to have a highly fragmented market competing inside their network.  It is a totally different animal to have Southwest and AirTran focused on carrying traffic to the Caribbean. The investment thesis necessary to market the IPO just got tougher.

Southwest Needs A New Reference

In its press release Southwest said: “Based on an economic analysis by Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, LLP*, Southwest Airlines’ more expansive low-fare service at Atlanta, alone, has the potential to stimulate over two million new passengers and over $200 million in consumer savings, annually. These savings would be created from the new low-fare competition that Southwest Airlines would be able to provide as a result of the acquisition, expanding the well-known “Southwest Effect’” of reducing fares and stimulating new passenger traffic wherever it flies.”

So where is the “Southwest Effect” in Akron-Canton?  AirTran serves the market and Southwest serves Cleveland up the road.  There should be significant stimulation in that market area? And in Dayton and Columbus, OH?  Perhaps Southwest is looking far back to a 1993 study.  Ding: the “Southwest Effect” as we knew it is dead.  The truth is today’s stimulation is largely diversion from another market or another carrier.  Fares may still be reduced in certain AirTran markets where the network carriers rely mostly on regional jets, but some markets will more than likely just recapture certain traffic from an airport in the catchment area that offered better fares to a unique geography.

Labor Issues

Some have questioned whether the acquisition will lead to labor troubles down the road. But one thing is for sure: If I was an AirTran employee the first words out of my mouth upon hearing the news would be:  “Ding, cha-ching!”  Like employees at United who are looking forward to enjoying the feel of a new culture, one can be sure that the AirTran employees feel much the same.  For them it is an opportunity to join one of the most admired and beloved companies, not just in the airline industry, but in the entire country

There will need to be union representation elections as a result of the merger as pilots and flight attendants are represented by different unions at each airline.  But it’s hard to imagine any vote going the way of the AirTran unions.  The main difficulty then becomes seniority list integration.  Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told investors that “equitable and fair” will rule the integration process.  That sounds like the words in the Allegheny-Mohawk Labor Protective Provisions and should be music to the ears of AirTran employees.  The question is whether each union will have it’s own definition of what is equitable and fair.  That was the case in Southwest’s most recent acquisition attempt, when the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association could not find a formula to integrate Frontier Airlines pilots – and the deal failed.

The integration process has evolved over the years since the Allegheny-Mohawk Labor Protective Provisions were enacted. Over that time, there have been more failures than successes in adopting fairness and equity. But it is incumbent for Southwest labor and management leadership to ensure that career expectations are met for all employees. Simply put, this concept means that the relative seniority in a combined list is not significantly different for any respective employee than it would be in their respective entity today.

Concluding Thoughts

Southwest will celebrate its 40th birthday next year. It is a mature and maturing carrier operating in a mature domestic environment where it is no longer THE innovator. What I find most interesting in Southwest’s potential bid for AirTran is that the carrier is being forced to act just like the network legacy carriers in seeking a consolidation scenario that would lead to an improved revenue line systemwide.

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Southwest put its money where its route system was weakest and made a very smart acquisition -- one that recognizes that two carriers will accomplish more together than either carrier could on its own.  The two carriers offer a combined network with minimal overlap that ensures that new revenue synergies will be generated.  With the deal there also will be new international opportunities derived for Southwest’s loyal passenger base.  Multiple fleet types are not an issue as the smaller airframe will allow Southwest to serve some smaller communities.

But I can’t wait to hear the arguments Southwest uses in Washington to gain regulatory approval, particularly as it will be hard pressed to make the argument that acquiring AirTran would further lower airfares in the US domestic marketplace.  After all, Southwest is not the only airline offering low fares, no matter what its boosters in Washington may think.

To make its case, the little ol’ Texas carrier that flies only to secondary markets will probably use the very same arguments to gain approval as did Delta/Northwest and United/Continental used.  Interesting indeed.   

Thursday
Feb072008

F + E = LPP^DL: Fairness and Equity; Seniority Integration; Union Representation; and Lee Moak Again

In a Delta Air Lines Deal, Labor Protective Provisions Were Board Approved Before the Law Was Passed

Well, leave it to Susan Carey, along with Dennis K. Berman and Paulo Prada, of the Wall Street Journal to again write, and break the most recent period of silence surrounding a potential deal between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines. In the same story, she reports that the preliminary talks that have taken place between United Airlines and Continental Airlines “have grown more serious”.

Whereas news on the deal side has been quiet, I have also noted the deafening silence from Lee Moak, the Chairman of the Delta chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association. My guess is Captain Moak is doing what all labor leaders should be doing and that is preparing for what is arguably going to be the most important period for organized labor since the passing of the Airline Deregulation Act.

A Recent Law Was Passed…..but the tenets had already been adopted by the Delta Board of Directors

SEC. 117. LABOR INTEGRATION. (a) LABOR INTEGRATION- With respect to any covered transaction involving two or more covered air carriers that results in the combination of crafts or classes that are subject to the Railway Labor Act (45 U.S.C. 151 et seq.), sections 3 and 13 of the labor protective provisions imposed by the Civil Aeronautics Board in the Allegheny-Mohawk merger (as published at 59 C.A.B. 45) shall apply to the integration of covered employees of the covered air carriers; except that--
(1) if the same collective bargaining agent represents the combining crafts or classes at each of the covered air carriers, that collective bargaining agent's internal policies regarding integration, if any, will not be affected by and will supersede the requirements of this section; and
(2) the requirements of any collective bargaining agreement that may be applicable to the terms of integration involving covered employees of a covered air carrier shall not be affected by the requirements of this section as to the employees covered by that agreement, so long as those provisions allow for the protections afforded by sections 3 and 13 of the Allegheny-Mohawk provisions.
(b) DEFINITIONS- In this section, the following definitions apply:
(1) AIR CARRIER- The term `air carrier' means an air carrier that holds a certificate issued under chapter 411 of title 49, United States Code.
(2) COVERED AIR CARRIER- The term `covered air carrier' means an air carrier that is involved in a covered transaction.
(3) COVERED EMPLOYEE- The term `covered employee' means an employee who--
(A) is not a temporary employee; and
(B) is a member of a craft or class that is subject to the Railway Labor Act (45 U.S.C. 151 et seq.).
(4) COVERED TRANSACTION- The term `covered transaction' means--
(A) a transaction for the combination of multiple air carriers into a single air carrier; and which
(B) involves the transfer of ownership or control of--
(i) 50 percent or more of the equity securities (as defined in section 101 of title 11, United States Code) of an air carrier; or
(ii) 50 percent or more (by value) of the assets of the air carrier.
(c) APPLICATION- This section shall not apply to any covered transaction involving a covered air carrier that took place before the date of enactment of this Act.
(d) EFFECTIVENESS OF PROVISION- This section shall become effective on the date of enactment of this Act and shall continue in effect in fiscal years after fiscal year 2008.

As we move forward there will be lots of stories about labor issues, air service to communities of all sizes, domestic issues, international issues, consumer issues and of course the horror stories of past deals gone bad to name a few. I sincerely believe that “smart labor” recognizes that the current speculation of possible combinations is not just talk but may be their best hope to position themselves for the future. Naïve thinking that Section 6 bargaining will return to its historical nature – well it is just naïve.

As we have written here many times and in many different ways, the current industry construct does not work for many, if any, major industry stakeholder(s). Any concept of change is difficult to accept on both the emotional and rational levels for sure. Short- term displacements and pain for some -- yes. Being forced to step back and accept that tomorrow will be significantly different -- absolutely.

But the burning question for me is: is the implementation risk of a merger deal (seniority integration, single collective bargaining agreement etc.) any greater than a leader having to manage the expectations of any employee group that actually believes they can make themselves whole in the next round of Section 6 negotiations? I do not think so with the industry facing an oil environment that was imagined by only a few, a weakening economy, increased global competition, general lack of an investment thesis, presence everywhere and pricing power no where -- no matter who you are.

My guess is Captain Moak has taken the basic tenets (fairness and equity) of the Allegheny-Mohawk merger protection provisions to heart and is studying the same merger scenarios that his management is. The primary difference in his due diligence is that he is focused on seniority lists and not EBITDAR. In his diligence process, I am sure he is figuring how to best analyze and “game out” the combination that treats each his own pilots as well as all pilots of a combined entity fairly and equitably. That is what leaders do and in this case it is leaders from both management and labor.

The integration process has evolved over the years since the Allegheny-Mohawk Labor Protective Provisions were originally enacted. There have been more failures at adopting fairness and equity than not to be sure. But it is incumbant for labor and management leadership this time to ensure that career expectations are met for all employees. Simply this concept means that the relative seniority of a combined list is not significantly different for a respective employee in a combined entity than it is for that employee today.

On the labor side, rigorous analysis of seniority lists can be done ahead of an announcement. My only hope is that Moak is being joined by his counterparts in Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston and other airline corporate homes. From what I read, Moak understands that a short implementation period is a friend of the deal and a long implementation period is well – just look at US Airways. Moreover, if pilots and other employees are seriously interested in a piece of equity ownership of the new entity, labor should absolutely want a short implementation period too.

Yes, There Are Employees Other Than Pilots

What makes any Delta combination interesting is the fact that other than the pilots and dispatchers, the company is non-union. Delta is a company that has trumpeted the idea of fair and equitable throughout its existence whether in union avoidance strategies directly or in the day to day management of its various class and crafts of employees. Whether conscious union avoidance or not, along the way you have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. And in Atlanta there has obviously been more walkin’ the talk than talkin’ the walk.

Just How Might Delta’s Current Non Union Workforce Play Out

Any deal led by Delta, or involving Delta, opens up a potential union representation box. Stated otherwise, if a combination of any class and craft of employees involves two different unions, then more than likely there will be an election; and if there is a combination of any class and craft of employees where one is union and the other non-union, and the unionized group comprises 35% or more of the total employees, then there would likely be an election.

In the Delta combinations being discussed, in each case the pilots are organized and members of the same union so no representation elections are expected.

But the flight attendants are a different story. The Northwest and United flight attendants are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, AFA-CWA. And given that a combined entity would be comprised of 35% or more union represented employees, a representation election would likely occur. In that election the flight attendants could either vote for AFA-CWA, another flight attendant union or for no representation in either merger scenario.

AFA-CWA has an organizing campaign underway at Delta. The decision point for the combined work force would be simply: am I better off working under a collective bargaining agreement or under the wage and working conditions employed by Delta with its current flight attendant work force.

As for the mechanics, this one also has some interesting nuances to it as well. Delta’s in house maintenance work force is unorganized and the company has begun to increase its insourcing of maintenance work. Each United and Northwest have been outsourcing an increasing amount of their maintenance work albeit for different reasons. Northwest’s mechanics were in effect disenfranchised by AMFA’s poorly conceived decision to strike Northwest and therefore, based on my read of the LPPs, the mechanics of a combined Delta – Northwest entity would not trigger a representation election. In a United - Delta combination, an election would be triggered but who the incumbent union would be is not known at United because currently the Teamsters are challenging AMFA. Got that?

As for the ground and related employees, the scenarios for either a Delta and Northwest or a Delta and United combination are the same. An election would more than likely be triggered given that the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) represent the various class and crafts of employees in this broad group at each Northwest and United. The definition of class and craft here will be a story to watch and they include ramp, customer service and reservations.

And more than likely, a representation election would be triggered by combining the dispatch groups. Although small in number, they are governed by the same rules as well.

Bigger Concerns than Unionization

In addition to the capable leadership of Moak, Delta management is led by Michael Campbell, their EVP of Human Resources, Labor Relations and Communications. Campbell was Gordon Bethune’s head of labor at Continental. The issues of representation and combining collective bargaining agreements are complicated for sure - but in capable and professional hands.

Should the investment community be concerned of union representation at Delta? No. The investment community should be more concerned with seeing that labor integration is done as quickly as possible, whether it involves unions or not, as this provides the shortest pathway to realizing merger synergies. For Delta, fairness and equity has been adopted at the Board level. Now it is law and this is important for many to consider when the naysayers repeatedly and continually tell us all to remember the menu of historic disasters.

At the end of the day, what was important for Delta yesterday will carry the same weight for Delta tomorrow. Given the current lack of unionization at the carrier, some might say that something was done right. Delta has historically understood that higher wages in return for commensurately higher productivity has served its employees and the company well. This concept is a most important model for the industry to sustain and will promise to be a most important theme in any upcoming negotiation. Further, it will be important for any combination to maintain - and sustain - the highest productivity possible as the industry needs to continue to shed fixed costs and not add to them.

Isn’t that really the issue behind today’s consolidation push anyway? I think Delta and others have learned from past mistakes.