Last week at the Phoenix International Airline Symposium, the air transport division director for the Transport Workers Union, John Conley, participated on one of the panel discussions. Nothing unusual here. The Symposium has been lucky to have John participate for a number of years.
He is one of the few union leaders that you can talk to who doesn’t couch everything in obviously jaded political terms — and if you know John, a former professional football player for the Dallas Cowboys, you also know that he is not afraid to speak his mind on how he sees the world — however hard that may be for other people, including union members, to accept.
But more often than not, his view of the world is usually pretty spot on — in terms of the airline industry as a whole, and particularly in terms of management/union relations.
But apparently, the upper echelon of the TWU hierarchy doesn’t like people speaking the truth.
Today, Trebor Banstetter reports in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram’s SkyTalk that John has been put on “administrative leave” by Jim Little, the TWU’s international president.
We got a copy of the memo.
“Effective Tuesday, April 1, 2008, I am placing Air Transport Director John M. Conely on administrative leave from his current position as Air Transport Division Director. Brother Conely will continue working on his other operational assignments.
Until further notice all administrative functions associated with the Air Transport Division will temporarily handled by International Secretary-Treasurer Joseph C. Gordon including staff assignments.”
First of all, it would be nice if Jim could spell John’s name right. It’s CONLEY.
Second, as Trebor reports, and as we’ve just had confirmed by a couple of readers, the reason for this “demotion” is because of comments that John made last week at the Symposium.
During the panel discussion he participated on, which also included Lehman Brother’s analyst Gary Chase, John talked about the effect that $100 a barrel oil could have on airline finances.
As Trebor wrote Friday, (and I heard with my own ears)
“Look, we’re at $100 crude,” said John Conley, air-transport division director at the Transport Workers Union, which represents ground workers at American Airlines as well as some employees at American Eagle, Southwest Airlines and other carriers. “I don’t know that it bodes well for us being as successful [in negotiating new contracts] as we had once hoped.”
Conley appeared on a panel at the International Aviation Symposium in Phoenix. Several industry insiders said that the price of fuel, which is the No. 1 cost for airlines, could devastate the industry.
“This could very well be a seismic-shift year,” Conley said. He said the environment “could be an opportunity to consider not being as intractable as folks have been in the past.”
Analyst Gary Chase of Lehman Bros. pointed out that the run-up in fuel is having a greater impact on airline costs than a typical recession.
“With fuel, it’s like this is three recessions at once,” he said. “And then, we also have a recession.”
Just to add to what Trebor wrote — one of the other options that was brought up during this discussion was the concept of making more compensation tied to company performance — so that fluctuations as a result of industry cyclical activity could be more easily managed by the airlines.
So when John talked about the potential for not being as “intractable” as they had been in the past — it was referring to the fact that perhaps it was a good time to look at different ways to approach contract negotiations. To try and come up with solutions that were perhaps more flexible.
The other thing that bothers me about this is that the Symposium is specifically geared to encourage discussion of the problems facing the industry in a conversational, informal format — rather than a postured and “official” manner.
There are no formal “speeches,” no PowerPoint presentations, and no structured format.
If folks who participate in the Symposium are going to be “demoted” because they contribute positively and constructively to a frank discussion — rather than merely mouthing union rhetoric that would render their appearance a waste of everyone’s time — then this threatens the very reason why the Symposium exists.
But apparently the TWU and its President, who can’t even apparently spell John’s name right, have decided to “demote” him. Demote him — for simply speaking the truth. And for talking in a rational way about the situation that now confronts management and labor — as airlines look at $100 a barrel oil.
Yes, well, for this, the TWU and particularly its President, Jim Little, are awarded a PlaneBuzz Buzz Bomb.
Shame on you.