вторник, 25 февруари 2014 г.

Of Tulips and Eagles - remembering those lost on 9/11/2001

Tomorrow marks the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks that brought down 4 planes and killed thousands of people.  We all have our own memories of that day, and it is important that we never forget.  We can mourn, but it is also important that we do something to bring honor to that day, and to those lights that were extinguished in an act of evil that we can never let happen again.

You all know that I have my own unique tradition where I board a United Airlines flight and travel to New York and back on the same day.  I hand out cards and wrist bands as a way of saying thank you to United's front-line employees who show up every day and hold to their commitment to get us customers to our destinations comfortably and safely.  Employees at United and American feel an added loss as it was their planes that were used, and their friends that went down with them.

Why bring up Tulips and Eagles?  These represent the brands that are United and American Airlines.  Back on 9/11/2011, all of United's planes were marked with the distinctive double "U" slanted shield that came together to look like a tulip.  On American's planes, the double AA painted on the tail is protected by a bald eagle, the national bird for the United States of America.  The employees that were lost on that day were also wearing either a Tulip or Eagle on their uniform.  

Combined there were 17 crew members on American Flights 11 and 77 that were lost.  On United flights 93 and 175, there was a total of 18 crew members (including 2 customer service employees traveling on that day) lost. Those souls were proud to wear the Tulip and Eagle symbols as they showed up to do their job on that fateful day.

For those of you that fly American Airlines, you will still see the Eagle being proudly displayed.  When you look at it, remember what it means.  It is a symbol for our country.  It represents strength and protection.  The employees of American Airlines wear their Eagles with honor.

Sadly, management at United Airlines has decided to take down the Tulip.  It may seem silly, but flying United Airlines today without the Tulip does not carry the same prestige.  This little flower represented so much of what was United Airlines.  Tomorrow, I will wear as much of my United Tulip bling I can find.  This is my way of honoring those United crew members who died 11 years ago.  

To the employees at United, pull out and wear as many Tulips as you can find.       For the sCO employees, those crew members that were lost are part of the heritage of this great airline.  They were your co-workers.  Honor them and find some way to wear a Tulip.

Tomorrow, Mr. Smisek will receive an arrangement of 20 white tulips.  Eighteen representing the crew members lost, and 2 representing the planes.  I would challenge him to put the Tulip back on at least 20 of the planes in the current fleet as a way to remember and honor t 519e he losses from 11 years ago.  Its just a little flower, but it is hardy and full of color and it carries so much meaning for those on the front lines at United Airlines.  Perhaps the new 787's  being rolled out would be the perfect place to do so.  

However you all remember the day tomorrow, just make it a safe day.  Do a good deed, say a prayer for those lost, attend a memorial, talk to your kids about what the day means.  It was a day where our freedoms were under attack, but we came together as a nation to make sure that we protect, honor and respect those freedoms.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What the heck is a "Proxy?"

It was a typical Los Angeles morning for me today.  If I leave my house no later than 6:00 AM, my 18 mile commute takes no more than 40 minutes.  This morning I slept in, and did not leave until 6:30 AM.  It took 90 minutes to get to work.  Sometimes I just hate this town.  
By now, for those of you that own shares in United Continental Holdings (UAL), you have received your "Definitive Proxy Statements" notifying us of the Annual Shareholders meeting, and the proposals to be voted upon for that meeting.  During this morning's lengthy commute, I got to wondering if individual shareholders truly understand what a Proxy is and its value to them.
If you hold shares of UAL in your 401K, mutual fund, or other brokerage account, those shares are registered to the brokerage firm or mutual fund manager, not you individually.  These shares are held in "street name."  For you to be able to vote your shares, you must request a Proxy from the brokerage firm or fund manager.  If you do not request a Proxy, then the vote stays with the brokerage firm or fund manager.  If a vote is not cast by you, or the entity that holds the shares in "street name," then the Proxy automatically defaults to UAL management, and they can vote those shares as they wish.
More often than not, individual shareholders will not request a Proxy and exercise their right to vote.  They either do not understand the proxy and voting process, or the proposals that are on the agenda to be voted upon.  Many investors in UAL are short term and just make quick trades based solely on the changes in the price of oil or jet fuel.  They are not in the game for the long-term.  They do not care about the outcome of elections.  This lack of understanding the proxy process, or not caring about the long-term health of the company, is why we see proposals being approved in favor of management by 85% or more.   Most of the voting rights behind those shares have defaulted to management because individual shareholders did not take the steps to obtain their own Proxy.
If you have shares in a 401K, mutual fund, or your own brokerage account, take the steps now to obtain your Proxy.  Once you have your Proxy, you can cast your vote yourself, or you can transfer that Proxy to someone you trust to vote for you.  You may want to do this if you know someone who will be attending the shareholders meeting.  For this year, with your own Proxy, you can cast your vote against the compensation plan for senior management, and against those individuals slated for a position on the Board of Directors.  Remember, the Board of Directors is supposed to represent your interest and keep management in check.  If you feel they are not doing their job, you can vote them out.
I have my Proxy and am planning at being at that meeing in New York.  I am also soliciting individual shareholders who feel they can trust me, to transfer their Proxies to me.  I will then carry those shares to that meeting and vote against the executive compensation plan, and against the proposed Board of Directors.  This may not change the outcome of the vote, but I may be able to carry a louder voice to that meeting.  Many of you know how committed I am to United Airlines.  This merger has only served to devalue a very powerful brand, and its time for management to to wake up to the damage that is being done. 
If you are interested in transferring your proxy to me, you can send me an e-mail to mailto:totjanderson@terraent.com and I can give you an address to send your Proxy.  Whether you transfer you Proxy to me, someone else, or cast your vote yourself, it is so important is that you take the time to exercise your right to vote.  Do not waste this right.  Individual shareholders can no longer just sit by and let their rights default to management.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Am I "Over-Entitled?"

Mr. Rainey's comment at the Merrill Lynch Investor's Conference were unfortunate.  What follows is a letter that is going out to him today.  I am sure it will just meet its end in some shredder at Wacker Drive.  Enjoy.....

May 23, 2012 ** Via Fedex Overnight **
Mr. John D. Rainey
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
77 West Wacker Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60601
RE: United Angers Frequent Fliers By Calling Some `Over-Entitled’.
      wsj.com “Middle Seat Terminal” article dated May 21, 2012.
Dear Mr. Rainey:
Congratulations on your promotion to EVP and Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Smisek has placed a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. You have his trust, and you should be proud of this accomplishment.
I was saddened to read about and then hear your comments that some of United’s elite customers (most likely those of us at the 25,000 mile “Premier Silver” level) had become “over-entitled,” and to quote you, “and now we’ve realigned the benefits of that program with what the customers and program participants are actually providing to the program.’’ In writing this letter, I did not want to boast or appear arrogant, but I felt it important you understand one of those “over-entitled” customers who have been insanely loyal to United Airlines. You come from Continental Airlines, so I am not sure you are really aware of the degree your comments have insulted a customer base that, along with the airlines front-line employees, has kept United Airlines flying. What follows is a true story of one of the “over-entitled.”
I have been a member of Mileage Plus since 1985. In the last ten years, my status has been predominantly at the “Premier Executive” (50,000 miles per year) level. A few years I reached 1K. Sadly, because of time considerations, I was unable to fly as much as I would have liked last year, and am now only a Premier Silver member.

From 2006 through 2009, for my travel alone, I spent almost $150,000 with United. During those years I was also a member of the “Pass-Plus” program. Since 1996, 95% of my ticket purchases have been under “F” or “A” fares, never requiring the use of upgrade awards I had earned. One time, for fun, I calculated my PRASM contribution in 2008 at $.70, almost seven times the average United earned from all customers.
For trips to New York, I use United’s Premium Service exclusively, and with every trip I sit in the First Class Cabin under tickets purchased under “F” fares, or sometimes unrestricted “C” fares using miles to upgrade to First. The average fare paid for those tickets is almost $6,000.00. Since the Premium Service flights began, I have never sat in the Business or Economy class sections. On every anniversary of September 11, 2001, I purchase a First Class Premium Service ticket to fly to New York and back on the same day as a way to bring some honor and to recognize United’s professionals who keep show up to work every day to get me to my destination safely. In 2006, the wonderful people at LAX honored me by naming me their “Customer of the Year.” I cherish that award as it came from the front-line workers. I will never be able to thank them properly for that honor.
Since September 11, 2001, as another way of thanking the under-appreciated front-line professionals at United, I began handing out $10 Starbucks gift cards. They are well-received and it is so nice to be able to put a smile on their face again. To date, I have handed out over 5,000 of those cards.
Since 1977, in one form or another, I have also been a shareholder. I was 16 when I purchased 100 shares with money I saved from working a part-time job. I so wanted to be a part of a company I admired for the power of its brand and the professionalism of its front-line employees. At the Shareholder’s meeting in 2008, I was witness to a lot of discord and hatred that the front-line employees had for management. I expressed my concern to Mr. Tilton about what I was witnessing, and how it would affect the elite customer base. His response was that I was free to go to another airline where I would find much of the same.
Bringing us to the present, as the new United feels I had become “over-entitled,” and as it is all about numbers and what I provide to the program, my benefits at the lowest tier of the Mileage Plus elite have been “re-aligned.” This status does not offer me much, but buying First Class tickets makes up for some of that loss. With the switch to the new reservation system, I find am unable to buy an un-restricted Business Class ticket and use some of the miles I have accumulated to secure a First Class seat. I am also unable to find First Class seats on 2-cabin domestic flights under the lower “A” fare. The new system restricts me to the higher “F” fare. I am no longer able to secure an Economy Plus seat when making a reservation, I have to wait until check-in. It is all just too sad, and it turns me off from flying.
I am lucky in that I have made many friends who work the front-line at United. United’s new management may not realize how truly loyal United’s elite customers are, but when I show up at LAX, I always run into someone I know, and they make sure that I have everything I need, irregardless of my status. Not all of the elite Mileage Plus members are so lucky, and if they don’t have the right numbers behind them, the management of this new United Airlines does not give them the respect they have earned, and more importantly, this new United Airlines has taken away any authority for the front-line to provide lower-tier elite customers with any measure of service.
Your comments at the Investor Conference are unfortunate, and I hope that you or Mr. Smisek can find a way to take them back. If you do not, then you have made it very clear that the “Skies are no longer Friendly.”

James T. Anderson
Mileage Plus #HVCxxxxx
Shareholder, and United LAX-2006 Customer of the Year.

cc: Jeffrey Smisek, President and CEO, United Continental Holdings, Inc.

Friday, January 6, 2012

What will tomorrow bring? Part 2

Today, January 6, 2012, marks the end of the second full year that the contract with United's Flight Attendants became amendable, as well as the 2 years and 9 months that the United AFA (Association of Flight Attendants) has been in negotiations with management over new contract terms. To that end, it is significant that today is the last day of the "expedited mediation" process in those on-going negotiations. Today, United management is to present what they consider to their "best and final" terms for a new contract to be voted upon by AFA members.

United management will present this Tentative Agreement ("TA") to AFA's Negotiating Committee. They will take this TA back to the United AFA Master Executive Council ("MEC"). The MEC will carefully review this TA and decide if this is something they feel should be presented to the membership for voting.

This will be a very difficult process and decision for the MEC. They are keenly aware how eager their members are to move forward and finally get a well-deserved raise. However, the MEC also knows that if they give in too quickly just to get on with things, it will set the tone for the relationship the union will have with the "new United" management from this point forward. Management still feels there is room to cut labor costs and they will not hesitate to exploit any weakness that presents itself.

No one can predict what will come out of this last week of "expedited mediation." Mr. Smisek and his management team appear to be getting testy and arrogant, and I am doubtful that any terms, over and above what the Continental subsidiary flight attendants have now, will be presented. It is also very unlikely that salary increases will be fully retro-active to the January 7, 2010 amendable date. To do so would cost the company, at a minimum, $200 million (just for the United subsidiary flight attendants). United management is not prepared to take this kind of hit as it affects their compensation. They also do not want to set such a costly precedent to be exploited in the on-going negotiations with pilots from both subsidiaries, as well customer service agents, ramp, dispatch and other work groups.

The United AFA MEC should take this review time and sit down with the ALPA (Air Line Pilots Association) MEC's from both the United and Continental subsidiaries. From here you will be able to gain your best support in your decision whether or not to present the Tentative Agreement to the membership. You are all in this together, and any weakness shown by one group will only make things harder for the others.

To my AFA readers, I make no illusions as to what you want or how to tell you to vote. I know how badly you deserve and need raises, and how many of you really just hate this whole process. If the MEC comes out tomorrow and presents a Tentative Agreement, they have only done so because they feel they have a responsibility to do so. It is up to you to carefully review this agreement and decide if you want the MEC to go back management and say "thanks, but no thanks."

We all may be surprised and management might be changing course and setting a new tone for this "new United." Lets keep our fingers crossed that this is the case. Nonetheless, today is again another significant day for United's front-line employees.

In all of this, please remember, irregardless of which subsidiary writes your paycheck, you are all more than Mr. Smisek's "co-workers" - YOU ARE UNITED AIRLINES. I, along with millions of other customers, support you.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

More than "co-workers" - you are United Airlines.

Hello All - it is a beautiful day here in Southern California making for a fantastic and relaxing Christmas Day. Wherever you may be, I hope you are all able to enjoy the day.

For the readers who are traveling this time of year, bring with you a lot of patience. I am sure many you have already experienced one hassle or another. Be patient with the TSA agents, and please be patient with those on the front-line of any airline. Many are away from their families today. Many have chosen to work on the holiday to pick up the extra pay they need to help them cover extra expenses they too have at this time of year. They will put up with full planes, and passengers fighting for overhead space as they try to bring their "kitchen sink" aboard in their carry-on. Customer service agents will have long lines of customers who have missed connections, or weather has caused delays or even cancellations of flight. If you are traveling this season, bring a smile, and take the time to really say "thank you."

For my friends at United, this is my chance to again say "thank you." You are truly dedicated. You endure long hours, and layovers away from your family just so that us customers will be able to enjoy the holiday season. You are more than "co-workers," you are United Airlines.

I need to get a mileage run in to lock-in my elite level Mileage Plus status for 2012. I have picked up a last minute trip from LAX to Richmond and back for Monday, December 26. I have connections in Chicago. The fare was pretty decent, I guess there are not many going to Richmond this time or year. It will be a long day, 6:00 AM flight (ughh), but with a double miles promotion in place for flights going to or through Chicago, I will hit my mileage goal. I hope to see some of you tomorrow.

When I return I hope to finish up two blog entries I have started. One discusses the importance in recognizing humility against arrogance. In the other, as I remain puzzled by the status, pace and direction of the labor negotations; what are the reasons? Well, I can think of about 200 million of them. The first week of 2012 will mark the second anniversary dates from when many of the contracts became amenable. Other than with the engineers, where a tentative agreement has been announced, there has not been much progress with the other groups. Mr. Smisek continues to look for that agreement that is "both fair to the employee and fair to the company." Each time he repeats that statement I get the feeling that what he sees is "fair to the company" will not be as fair to the employee.

Again - Merry Christmas everyone. I appreciate all my readers and supporters. Be safe!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ten Years Later - Always Remembering, Never Forgetting

This Sunday, September 11, 2011 marks the ten-year anniversary of a very dark day in history. Over the last month, we have been reminded that this indeed is the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Retrospectives have appeared daily in the newspaper, and television has had one program or another with interviews and in depth analyses of the events of that day. It was hard for me to watch what was happening on that day ten years ago, and it is hard for me to watch again, so I don't. Is that wrong?

There is something good to remember though. At that time, this country and its citizens came together in such unity and resolve, the likes of which had not been seen since the U.S. entered World War II. Thousands of volunteers descended upon New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, coming from all corners of the world, to assist in any way they could. In local communities, people packed churches to attend prayer vigils and services honoring the dead, the wounded, and the emergency responders working hard with rescue and clean-up efforts at the crash sites. Heck, even our government cast aside politics and party lines to come together to quickly get money, supplies, troops and equipment to these sites. I will never forget the horror, but to get through that I remember that feeling of unity and determination that the U.S. is still the greatest nation on the planet, and its citizens are going to do all they can to make sure it never happens again.

"Always Remember" and "Never Forget" are phrases we will hear and see a lot as the tenth anniversary nears. They both carry a lot of meaning. Always remember and never forget the dead and wounded - innocent victims of an evil act put together by a few nutjob religious zealots thinking this is what their god wanted. Then there are the fire, police and other first responders fighting tirelessy in their rescue and then sadly recovery efforts. So many of them lost their lives too. Not to be forgotten are the crew and passengers on those four airliners that did all they could to stop what was happening, even if it meant their own lives.

As I have every 9/11 since 2002, this Sunday, I will get on a United flight and take a moment to thank every crew member I can. This year, as I have for the least six years, I will fly non-stop to JFK airport and back to Los Angeles on the same day. There are many reasons why I set this tradition for myself as a way to bring honor to the day. I think the biggest reason I do so is that, despite what happened 10 years ago, the men and women who are on the front line of our airlines continue to show up for work and bring us confidence that we will reach our destinations safely. The good people at United have been through so much in the last ten years. The dedicated front-line employees accepted pay cuts and loss of pensions just so that the company they have devoted their lives to would survive. My little trips and Starbuck's cards will never go far enough to thank them properly, but I do what I can. September 11 is a very difficult anniversary for them and I just want them to know that the customers do appreciate their dedication.

This being the 10th anniversary, a lot more is being made of the day than in recent years. That is fine, but I urge everyone to keep and honor every anniversary of September 11. A new generation of young Americans is coming up that are too young to remember, or were not even born yet. It is our responsibility to pass on and make sure they understand what that day was about. It is up to you what to tell them, but just make sure you tell them something they will take to heart and pass on to the next generations. This is how we "Always Remember" and "Never Forget."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What will tomorrow bring?

"Any agreement (with labor and the unions) has to be fair to the employee, and fair to the company."

I still cannot shake this talking point that Mr. Smisek kept using at the shareholders' meeting earlier this month. To my disappointment, Mr. Smisek made it very clear that management will be deciding what is fair to the employee. That got me to thinking about what senior management is looking at to come up with that number they call "fair."

Mr. Tilton always used to say that airline management needs to deal with the "structural issues that plague the industry." Mr. Smisek talks about "fairness." No matter how you say it, both of them still have it in their minds that controlling and reducing labor costs is one of key avenues to "sustained profitability." It is also the fallback plan when they cannot compete well enough to increase revenues. This view is backed up by Wall Street analysts crunching numbers and offering their take on how well an airline is managed. With all that, the front-line employees only chance to be heard is through their union representation.

Nearly all of the collective bargaining agreements in place, for both the United and Continental subsidiaries, are currently "amendable." The Railway Labor Act (RLA) prohibits any agreement from expiring at the end of its term, it only becomes "amendable" and both parties are able to negotiate new terms for a fixed period. Until new agreements are ratified, labor groups keep working under the the existing terms of their contracts.

Getting back to "fairness" and "structural issues" - it has become clearer that Mr. Smisek's leadership team has their "fair to the employee, fair to the company" plan already mapped out, with all roads leading to concessions on the part of the employees. Again, to them, labor costs are a "structural issue" to be reformed. Management has already and "in general" conceded that employees deserve raises, but where they hope to gain the greater concessions are in work rules, productivity improvements, reduced employer contributions for benefits, and more outsourcing of jobs to third parties. This outsourcing includes expanding the scope and having more flexibility to use regional and code share carriers.

FLIGHT ATTENDANTS - In just a little over 24 hours from the time this entry is posted, flights attendants at United and Continental will have made their choice as to which single union will represent them as part of the "new" United. This is an important decision as it will demonstrate to management how hard the flight attendants are willing to fight to restore pay and benefits back to levels they deserve. As an outsider, from what I can see, the best chance for the flight attendants to make a real difference and show management that their contributions deserve more respect is with the "AFA," the Association of Flight Attendants.

In their representation of the Continental flight attendants, the other union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ("IAM") has already set the tone and floor for any contract negotiations with United's senior management. Having already already negotiated an agreement for the Continental flight attendants, they really have no leverage to go back to the table to demand more in their representation of all flight attendants of the combined carriers.

Being the largest union in place to represent only flight attendants, the AFA will make sure their membership is heard. They clearly understand the needs of of all flight attendants whether they are senior or junior, line-holder or reserve, and know how to structure an agreement where they all are represented fairly. They have professional standards in place for their members to abide by so that they stand out as more than just a commodity to management. As a customer, I feel comforted when I see a flight attendant wearing their AFA pin.

As with the pilots, any contract the flight attendants agree to should make sure loopholes are closed for management to outsource service to regional or codeshare carriers. Just to keep up with inflation, wage rates need to be higher than those set in the agreement the Continental flight attendants recently ratified. Protections also need to stay in place so that flight attendants get enough rest, layovers are in safe hotels, and make scheduling more efficient to minimize dead-heading and make the number of hours that they are actually paid for is closer to the number of hours they are actually "on duty."

CUSTOMER SERVICE - I have many dear friends in customer service at United. One of them is a shop steward for her local IAM council. In conversations we have had, there is no real love of the IAM with CSR's. Continental's customer service agents do not belong to a union.

Sadly, number crunchers for senior management will view this group as being more expendable than others. It costs less to hire and train a new customer service agent than it does a pilot, flight attendant, mechanic or dispatcher. Without union protection, management is free to hire and fire, or to reduce wages and hours "at will." When senior management sends out the directive to cut labor costs, employees who are not part of a collective bargaining agreement are the most vulnerable.

At hubs, mainline customer service agents will not be affected as much when service goes to regional carriers. They are still needed to check-in the customers, work the clubs and lounges, and work at the gates. CSR's should care though at the smaller stations at risk of going to all regional service, like Burbank did recently.

THE PILOTS - Continental's Board of Directors should never have approved the merger without this matter being resolved beforehand. Pilots from both subsidiaries are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and that gives them more leverage than any of the other labor groups. Continental's pilots have been in negotiations since 2008, and United pilots started their negotiations in 2009. Little of any substantive value has been resolved. Wages and seniority integration are two big issues, but from what I have read, scope protections, particularly limiting the use of regional carriers is going to be the biggest fight. United pilots, in the bankruptcy, were forced into conceding more on this issue. It seems like Denver has become more of a Skywest hub than it is a United hub. Continental pilots are better protected.

Management loves the flexibility of using regional carriers. It helps them get load factors up, which will drive yields up, particularly in mid-size non-hub destinations. More profit is derived from filling 70 seats on an RJ-700 than filling 70 seats on an A-319 or 737. The RJ-700's and similar equipment are easy sells to the customer because they can put in a First Class section for the elite flyers and instead of offering one flight on an A-319, they sell the customer on the flexibility and convenience of two flights to different hubs on the RJ-700.

ExpressJet is a regional carrier that is the primary provider of regional service for Continental Airlines. On May 1, 2010, Continental and United announced they were going to merge, and on August 5, 2010, Skywest announced it would acquire ExpressJet. In February of 2010, United exercised warrants they owned to acquire a large stake in ExpressJet. Continental already owned a large stake. United and Continental management had already decided before they announced their own merger that they were going to sell their majority interest in ExpressJet to Skywest (or another regional operator). This accomplished two things - (1) it would help to minimize anti-trust problems which may quash the merger they were planning, and (2) they knew that when they needed to add regional service with jets carrying more than 50 passengers it could be done under the "United" subsidiary by a third party like Skywest. To remain competitive and keep their elite customers happy, Continental has had to keep mainline service on some routes that might be more profitably served with regional jets carrying more than 50 passengers. There is now nothing stopping the new United from replacing that service with regional service under the "United" subsidiary and "United Express" name on larger regional jets. Skywest, as the third party and without scrutiny, when mechanical or other 1208 unforeseen issues arise, can now "substitute" larger regional jets on routes operated by ExpressJet. When that happens, there is nothing stopping the new United from selling those extra seats.

It is an ugly issue, and if there is any sticking point that will lead to a strike, it is this one. This issue also impacts flight attendants, and if there is anything management would fear, is that the pilots and flight attendants stand firmly together and go to the negotiating table with the same terms on this one issue.

BACK TO MANAGEMENT - As I started to write in this post, management has already made up their minds as to what they feel is "fair." They favor the IAM over the AFA for the flight attendants knowing which union is more "fair" to management. With the pilots they will push the loopholes now provided by the merger to increase outsourcing to regional carriers and will use threats of legal action and base closures to weaken their ranks.

Even threats of work actions or strikes by the workers are in their calculations of what is "fair." To them, in the short term, the cost of any work action may reap its own returns by wearing down union members enough they will eventually give in to management's terms. All that I ask is that the employees remain strong.

Some are going to argue that my observations are without merit and that this fight is not mine. However,as a shareholder, I am concerned about how this company is run, and I firmly believe that a well-paid, well-respected front line is the only way to the "sustained profitability" management so desparately seeks. As a customer, if the front-line employees are enthusiastic about going to work, then the "travel experience" Mr. Smisek wants to sell to me will be that much better.

Mr. Smisek, these good people on the front-line are not your "co-workers." They are more than that, they are this airline. Until you are outside, below the wing, on a snowy Christmas Eve in Chicago, or sitting at a customer service counter after a flight cancellation; until you put yourself on the front-line you will never be able to call yourself a "co-worker." Get your number crunchers to take some time to re-think what is "fair," and by all means get yourself into this mix and settle these contracts.

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