You may have noticed a spate of media stories about the employees of American Airlines and US Airways coming out and helping their companies fight against the Dept. of Justice lawsuit that has put a proposed merger on ice. We’re always hearing about employees and management fighting over things including pay and benefits, worker rules and destinations/bases, to name a few, but not either side showing much love.
And most of the employees who would be affected by the merger were either against, resigned to it or just didn’t care — until DOJ came knocking at the last minute to put the kaibosh on the deal. Then it turned into an “us against the world” story, which is irresistable. Having seen this type of thing up close and personal in my 20 years of covering the industry, here’s why these airline employees have become strange bedfellows with their carriers in the matter of the merger.
First, they now all have a common foe. There’s an old Arabic saying: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. These employees may not be enamored of the management of their airlines, but when a common foe arrives, they are all in the same boat. For good references to this phenomena, see Delta vs. US Airways and Atlantic Coast Airlines vs. Mesa Air Group.
Second, that common foe is the U.S. government, as represented by DOJ. We all know in what high esteem citizens currently hold for the government, in the wake of the battles over the debt ceiling, the budget, Obamacare and sequestration, to name a few. So it’s pretty easy to make the government the bad guy and rally the airline troops for this fight.
Third, the lawsuit has created a “why everyone else and not us” mentality with both groups. Look at the history — DOJ has let other airline mergers pass without a whimper, including American and TWA in 2001, US Airways and America West in 2005, Delta and Northwest in 2008, Southwest and AirTran in 2010, and United and Continental in 2012. The last one they opposed was United-US Airways in 2001, and that one didn’t happen. So why object now, they ask?
Fourth, both airlines are putting a lot of time, resources, and most importantly, money to fund this employee campaign as part of the overall PR effort to fight DOJ’s opposition to this merger. I got a good look at this when Delta was pressing Congress for pension reform. We did a series of editorial board meetings that always included representatives from all the employee groups (including a gate agent who had already lost one pension when Eastern Airlines went under). The bill became law in August 2006.
Finally, these employees see the handwriting on the wall. Conventional wisdom says there still needs to be more airline consolidation (hello JetBlue, Alaska Air, Frontier, Virgin America), so with the American-US Airways announcement, they knew where they stood. Now, everything is in limbo again, so by rallying with their airlines, employees can feel like they’re fighting the good fight. It will be very interesting to see how this comes out.