We’ve been bargaining in our industry for a long time and have developed strong “muscle memory” about how the process works. Good muscle memory may be a plus for a golfer's swing if it results in long straight drives, an accurate short game, precise sand work and laser-focused putting. But I’m not sure that the same is true for labor relations in the airline industry.
Those of us who are responsible for bargaining strategy, negotiations and labor communications, either for unions or for management, might be well served to develop a “new swing.” Because maybe, just maybe, the traditional, largely adversarial, approach to contract negotiations puts us in the “rough” more often than not.
By any objective standard, the jobs at American Airlines are very good jobs. But that doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement. One of our goals in negotiations is to make sure that we provide employees with good career opportunities, fair pay and benefits and satisfying work.
At the same time, this has always been a very difficult industry in which to be profitable and that has never been truer than in the past 20 years. We have many competitors that are anxious to take our customers and revenue. The domestic and international competitive landscape is maturing and we need to respond effectively.
To succeed, we need to compete effectively, protect jobs and benefits and provide a sensible place for investors to put their money. That means we need a motivated, highly productive, and well-compensated team of employees, to offer a product and service that customers want, and do so with a cost structure that puts us on a level playing field with the competition.
If we all focused more on these objectives at the negotiations table, and less on our differences, we might spend more time in the middle of the fairway and play a better game.
In other words, maybe we should think again about the old way we approached contract negotiations and focus not on a battle of wills and competing agendas, but on finding ways to make the company stronger for everyone’s gain.
The devil is always in the detail, but this may be a good new starting point.