The issue on the table concerns the integration of the pilots of Reno Air, recently acquired by American, into American's labor pool and their upgrading to American's pay scale. The airline says its integration plans are proceeding apace, but the pilots' union believes "the company is doing an end run around them," says Saporito. The pilots' union is highly distrustful, says Saporito, because the recent history of airline labor relations is replete with instances in which "the major airlines have abandoned secondary routes, and then come back to provide service on those routes with commuter airlines featuring more modern planes and lower-paid pilots." Major-airline pilots are convinced that the way to stop this practice is to insist on pay parity for all pilots. At American, the gap in pay that needs to be closed is considerable: American pilots make more than double the salary of their counterparts at Reno.
As in most labor disputes of late, job security lies at the heart of the current job action at American Airlines. Since last Friday American's pilots have been calling in sick, causing the cancellation of 2,500 flights, grounding 200,000 passengers and generally disrupting air travel around the country. On Wednesday, the airline went to federal court and got a judge to order the pilots back to work. "This seems like something the parties should have been able to resolve on their own, but the dispute comes with a history of bitter enmity," says TIME business editor William Saporito.