J.P. Morgan aviation analyst Jamie Baker, speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit yesterday, offered what he believed could be a tonic for airline labor relations: making airline jobs more portable.
One of the big problems, Baker said, is that it is difficult for pilots to switch airlines because they would move down on seniority list rankings. Those rankings are key to the type of aircraft and routes they fly on, which in turn is key to their pay.
IIf I don't think I'm being sufficiently compensated, I could try to sell my services to somewhere else," Baker noted. "Airline labor, particularly pilots, they don't have that portability. If there would be some way to change that, where pilots in particular could flow between airlines without jeopardizing their seniority I think that could certainly help soothe some of the angst between management and labor."
Obviously everybody wants Capt. Sullenberger at the controls of his or her airplanes, but if he were to leave US Airways, he'd have to go back to the minor leagues, to flying an RJ. He doesn't have the ability to take his skill set and sell it to a Delta, sell it to a United. So if there were some way that the unions could recognize the portability of labor, I think the situation could in fact ease."
Baker, however, quickly added that he knows his labor idea "won't get much play, particularly with the likes of ALPA."
Baker, who was on a discussion panel with US Airways Chairman and CEO Doug Parker, then asked Parker if there was anything in the structure of the contracts that could change.
Parker said the system is unfortunate for employees, because their quality of life is based upon a choice they made 20 years ago. "Very good pilots just happened to get in the wrong line at the grocery store," he said. But he also said this:
"What you suggested, while it would be nice, is just not practical at this point in time. I don't know how we ever get there from here. The system we have is the system we've had for a long time and I think it's going to be the system we have for a while."
You can hear the entire exchange, including some more Parker comments about labor relations, in a recording of the remarks here (03:28).