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American pilots union president tap dances

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Wilson issues a “clarification” press release in which he chides himself for his previous comments.

Keith Wilson, president of the Allied Pilots Association union representing 10,000 American Airlines mainline pilots, did some fancy backpedaling last week regarding the Republic Airways Holdings pilots’ labor vote.

Rank-and-file pilots at Republic, parent of US regionals Republic Airlines, Chautauqua Airlines and Shuttle America, recently resoundingly voted down a four-year labor contract that had been tentatively agreed to by Republic management and International Brotherhood of Teamsters officials representing 2,200 Republic pilots. All parties agreed the labor contract would have raised the pilots’ pay to among the top of US regional airlines.

Wilson was not involved at all in the Republic pilot negotiations or in the voting on the contract. But on April 9 he spoke out strongly in favor of the Republic pilots’ contract rejection, praising “their courage” in voting down the deal.

However, on April 10, Wilson issued a “clarification” press release in which he chided himself for his previous comments. “As an outside party, I should have refrained from expressing an opinion in a public forum about another pilot group’s contract negotiations,” Wilson stated in the April 10 release.

What was the “public forum” in which Wilson made the comments he now says were ill-advised? Surely, based on the tenor of Wilson’s April 10 statement, he must have just gotten carried away at an April 9 breakfast meeting with a reporter or went off-script answering questions from an audience after a luncheon speech. Uh, actually, the “public forum” in which Wilson expressed himself on April 9 was a widely-distributed Allied Pilots Association press release that implied not just Wilson but all 10,000 American pilots were cheering on their brethren at Republic.

The April 9 press release, still online at APA’s website as of this writing, is provocatively titled, Allied Pilots Association Commends Republic Pilots: ‘Another Stake in the Ground’ to Turn Profession Around.

The April 9 release then extensively quotes Wilson heaping praise on the Republic pilots. Not only that, but it also quotes him pushing cockpit crew at other regional airlines to hold firm in their contract talks. Referencing negotiations that US regional carriers ExpressJet, Mesa and Air Wisconsin are all currently engaged in with their pilots, Wilson said those talks (and presumably votes on any tentative agreements) “likewise have the potential to reverse substandard pay rates, benefits and working conditions. APA will continue to support those pilots’ efforts as well.”

One day later (!), in the subsequent press release, Wilson was singing a different tune. Whereas on April 9 he said the Republic pilots’ tentative agreement “included slightly higher compensation,” he acknowledged on April 10, “The wages and working conditions in the tentative agreement represented significant improvements that would have put the Republic pilots in a leading position within the regional airline industry.” He added, “However, the tentative agreement apparently fell short of their expectations.” Apparently so.     

“I wish only the best for the Republic pilots in their ongoing efforts to achieve a satisfactory contract,” Wilson stated on April 10.

Interestingly, the April 9 press release was tweeted to APA’s 1,430 Twitter followers and, as of the morning of April 14, remained at the top of the union’s Twitter feed. The April 10 “clarification” was not tweeted by APA. The April 9 release was issued mid-morning, exactly when you issue a statement that you want to get maximum media exposure. The April 10 release was issued in the evening, at nearly 7 p.m. Dallas time, exactly when you issue a statement that you want to get minimum media exposure.

In other words, Wilson clearly meant what he said in the first release and wants as many people as possible to be aware of his and APA’s backing of the Republic pilots—as inappropriate as it may be for him to be commenting on contract negotiations at another airline with which he had no involvement.

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