The Down UnderWare Chronicles

The Down UnderWare Chronicles

AnsettAWA

 

Published in “The Down UnderWare” – Melbourne, Australia

December 1989 Edition

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

or

“The Federation Strikes Back”

In which your editor is set upon, in an alley, by ruffians (and ruffiettes), and Max The Mechanic’s beer supply is sorely threatened.

 


 

 

“Hey, Mark. Ya wanna beer?”

This was a bad time for Max to be asking a question like that. Fiona was just getting ready to make her choice. Things were getting critical. I figured her for the wharfie type but she went for the sheep farmer instead. Oh well, no accounting for tastes I suppose. Perfect Match is no competition for Masterpiece Theater, but it’s all that’s on at that time of afternoon.

“Thanks Max, but I don’t drink.” I responded standing up from my chair at Milliken’s Bar and Grill.

“I knew that,” he grinned. “What I meant was, would you like to help me carry a case back from the bottle shop?”

The camera was on a retired fertilizer salesman from Adelaide making a final pitch for a companion in her golden years.

This was really getting depressing. “OK, I really can’t think of anything I’d rather do right now!”

Off we went down the alley and around the corner. Victoria Bitters sure is expensive. Lucky Max was a mechanic and was making supervisors pay. I guess he didn’t feel it as much as I would have.

On the way back down the alley I was contemplating why I was carrying Max’s beer. A fellow in the alley disturbed my reverie by walking up to us and asking, “Excuse me, are you with Braniff by any chance?”

“No, sorry.” I said assuming he was an Air 2000 pilot.

“Ah ha! You’re with America West,” he cackled gleefully.

Fire bells should have gone off already, but Max and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders saying, “Yes. How did you know?”

“It was your accent,” he said with the look of a hawk eyeing a road kill.

It was too late. There was no going back now.

“And you’re with the Federation,” I winced.

Well, to make a long story shorter, he was and so were all fifty of the rest of them, who filed in behind us in the space of a couple of minutes.

Max, realizing the danger, edged over towards me and lifted his case of beer from my shoulder. 

Triage.

The Federale smiled.

 

Warning

Please kids, don’t try this stunt on your own! This should never be attempted without full police supervision, and then only by mature, married people who have had years of experience with situations that could turn ugly at a moments notice.

 

So here’s Max and I trying to slither off to our apartments through this rather unfriendly group of Federation pilots with their wives and kids. Well, that’s unfair. The pilots and children were actually fairly civil. You could talk to the pilots. Their wives, however, made their run-ins at the waterline. Fortunately, there weren’t too many of them.

I suppose they were experimenting with the tactic of making themselves look pitiful. They dragged their children around with them and planted them in front of you if you tried to move.

Well, what can one say? It was an interesting technique, but you could tell that the kids would really rather have been someplace else at the time.

In fact it was kind of hard to keep from laughing, but with 50+ of them and two of us there were some subliminal inhibitions against it.

Max and I figured that the worst thing we could do, from a long term standpoint was to cut and run, so we just stood our ground. I noticed, however, that Max had his case of beer in a leg lock and was rapidly rubbing the ink off of the cardboard with his ankle.

We talked to those that wanted to talk and got hard of hearing with those that were being unpleasant. It worked pretty well too.

The only really unpleasant fellow in the crowd, a short, dark haired man who I later discovered was one of AFAP’s chief administrators (and not a pilot), walked up to me and started snarling, “SCAB, SCAB, SCAB!”. I should have figured he wasn’t a pilot, he was the only one wearing a leather flight jacket. Normally, I would have ignored him as well.

The misnomer truly begged a response, but the prudent let such a comment pass.

“Look! I’m no more a SCAB than you are a faggot child molester. No strike, no scabs. If you’d gone out on strike, like any other pilot union in the WORLD, none of us would be here right now and you guys would still have jobs! Why you guys resigned from a cushy seat like you HAD, instead of striking is something I’d like to know! I sure wish you’d just decide to go back to work, ‘cause I’m getting tired of covering for you!”

God obviously protects the idiots of this world.

The current on the picket line shifted. I was still too dense to appreciate why, but suddenly the pilots in the group were not only looking, but scowling at this guy. He knew what was happening though. As soon as he saw the mood of the pilots in the crowd, he “evaporated”. I never saw the fellow again. I was later to discover that the administrative types within AFAP are not held in high repute after advising the membership to resign. 

After they realized we were quite happy with our ethical position, they became a good deal more tractable. Ansett security showed up. I suppose they figured we were going to be boiled in a pot. The crowd had dwindled to only ten folks so I told the security rep that I really didn’t need any help, although it was nice of him to ask. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and walked back around the building.

In a few minutes the crowd had dwindled to three, and Milliken walked out into the alley with Carlson inviting us in for some beers and spaghetti. Back at Milliken’s we all had a nice dinner party followed by a group picture. We held up their sign saying, “Yank Pilots Go Home!”, with one of the Federation pilots holding a carving knife against Milliken’s throat. A comment was made that this picture should probably be enlarged and sent to Conway with a caption, “Security Down Here Sucks!”

All things considered, the evening turned out rather well. Even the Federation representatives put down their gloves and had a good time once they got inside. In a gesture of friendship, recognized the world over in pilot circles, the Federales drank all of Milliken’s beer then left.

 


Ansett and America West
“The Real Story”

F.O. Michael Stuart      

I have been shaking my head since first reading the article written by
Captain Bill White nearly two weeks ago. I don’t understand how anyone who has “researched the situation” could have such a convoluted and distorted picture of what is happening in Australia. Considering the only reference given is phone numbers of Federation pilots, my conclusion is Bill doesn’t have all the facts.


The facts given to Bill have been taken out of chronological context, and understandably reflect the AFAP/ALPA viewpoint.   There is however, a great deal more to the story. My research is the two and a half months I lived and worked there, as well as the insight gained from my association with Ansett pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and most importantly, the Australian people.

In order to understand “the situation in Australia,” one must step back in
time to the formation of the Australian Air Pilots Association (father of the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots) some 43 years ago, and understand that AFAP has become the strongest and most successful union in a nation dominated by unions. Without a doubt the AFAP and it’s predecessor had won every single industrial challenge they had ever embarked on. Ansett Airlines was usually their target, and after a few days at the most, Reg Ansett (founder) would simply roll over and give them what they demanded. It was as simple as that. With the only competition being the government owned Australian Airlines, Ansett’s market share was at risk from the opening bell. Ansett had no real options.

This time however, things have changed down under.   The Wage Accords were instituted by the government in an attempt to curb an inflation rate that has ravaged the economy, as well as limited wage increases to acceptable amounts based largely on productivity within the work force.    AFAP chose to challenge these accords, which have been working, the government, and the Australian people all at once.    In the words of their leader Captain Brian McCarthy when interviewed by 60 Minutes, “Because we are special.”     C’mon Brian, you don’t really believe that, do you?

Well he must have, because the Federation refused to even discuss productivity increases until they received a 23.47% increase in pay. McCarthy said publicly that, “This is not negotiable.” The airlines refused to pay and the government ordered them back into the cockpit. Understand that the pilot’s award (contract) was not even due for renegotiation at this time. Then, threatened with Industrial Relations Board action against the Federation and civil writs against individual pilots for staging an illegal strike, the Federation
acted upon some very poor legal advice and resigned. THAT’S RIGHT—RESIGNED!


They listened to the “union hall mentality” that generates from this sort of confrontation arid actually quit their damned jobs. They have received their retirement and accrued leave checks, and are no longer employed by Ansett or Australian Airlines. Many of these poor blokes had no idea what the Federation had done to them until they got these checks. Now, faced with the reality of what has been done and feeling some contempt for the “brotherhood” that sabotaged then, they are returning to their jobs. Make no mistake, the newfound and totally uncharacteristic willingness of the Federation to negotiate with the airlines has only been since it became apparent that it no longer represented an ever increasing number of its former members. The public announcement of this willingness came on the heels of another announcement. The resignation from the Federation of its executive secretary for the state of Victoria.   I don’t know about anyone else, but I smell a rat.

“Non-pilot employees of the affected airlines, except for some flight attendants, all remain employed and continue to receive their normal wages.” I must say this is true. The only reason this is true however is America West Airlines, and the few individuals among us who kept Ansett Airlines alive while they began a very slow and painful rebuilding process. Without our presence in Australia, Ansett would have gone the Aussie equivalent of Braniff (another brotherhood carrier) and there would be an additional 13,000 people unemployed as a result of these “special” pilots. By the way, as of this writing, a number of former Braniff pilots are either in training or on their way to Australia to become Ansett employees.    So much for the Brotherhood!.   The Australian
government has in fact allocated $100 million to pay the bill for this dispute. It amounts to much the same paper shuffle that currently hides the Aviation Trust Fund from the accountants at the GAC in Washington D.C. It is a trade-off of future landing charges incurred by the airlines if and when they return to normal service, to be drawn “not in excess of $20 million per week.” It is not an actual payout to the airlines.

The “cabotage” mentioned in Bill’s article is happening. EVERY SINGLE airline operating an international route segment within the domestic route structure in Australia is carrying domestic passengers. I have followed them down the Aussie airways, and witnessed deplaning passengers with their boarding passes marked with a large, orange “D” in their hot little hands. The “D” indicates domestic and makes it possible to proceed without clearing customs.


British Airways, Continental, Cathay Pacific, Thai, Lufthansa (I have a copy of theirs), and yes the “Grand Exalted PUBA of the Brotherhood” — United. Those are the facts mates.

America West pilots who chose to serve in Australia DID NOT RECEIVE A SUBSTANTIAL INCREASE IN PAY,  we received a guarantee of 100 hours per month. Since I flew 102 credit hours in September and 98 hours in October, I don’t see this as an increase in pay or benefits.   Granted I am not a graduate of the Henry Duffy School of Creative Finance, but the $40 a day I netted on my per diem does not appear to be a bonanza.

The business of the “Scabtracker”‘ bulletin board is distressing from the
standpoint that the information provided to this childish endeavor was without question provided by someone at America West. My home address, PO number, and seniority number were not given to anyone in Australia.

Yes, we were given security at our hotel.   We never saw them and had no idea who they were. We were told that security was on the property. They must have done their job well because we had absolutely “no worries” or hassles in the hotel complex, and we lived in a pretty big place. I walked alone night or day anywhere I pleased without a single encounter or unpleasant circumstance.

We also had security at the weather briefing and flight planning area at the airport.   I know of only two or three instances of Federation people standing around giving us the “EVIL EYE” or telling us they wished we would go home. That is what got us the security in the first place! Ansett did not want to take a chance of having some American creating an international incident by escalating a rather minor verbal exchange into an old-fashioned East Chicago street fight. Yanks do tend to have an attitude, you know.    However, the Australian people at large were much more than well received. They were warm, friendly, hospitable, and incredibly thankful and glad that we were there. They tried to buy drinks in the pubs, dinner in the restaurants, and were always glad to have a conversation. They never failed to thank us as they deplaned, and many, many offered a “Good on ya’ mate” as they left the aircraft. The Australian public is sick and tired of listening to the Federation cry and moan about how mistreated and underpaid the pilots are, and many have stated so in the press and man on the street interviews with the media. I was invited to spend the night, taken to the countryside, and shown the splendid sights of Australia by people who were not employed by or had any connection with Ansett or even involved with this dispute directly. Those, mates, are the facts.   The Aussies are damned glad to be rid of the Federation, and damned glad to have air service. They are very open in their appreciation.

I encourage all of you with an interest in seeing Australia and doing some very interesting flying in this “Land Down Under”, to contact the flight manager’s office or contact any one of the people who have seen the situation FIRST HAND for the straight story. Of course, I am not so naive as to think that the pilots at America West who insist on stirring the foul smelling bucket of discontent will take the time, but I am sure they couldn’t see the forest for the trees anyway.

It is also worthy to mention that we at America West owe a great deal to
Ansett Airlines and Sir Peter Abeles.   We have benefited from a large
amount of equipment from them (much of which was purchased at below market rates) and, also, we have a very large percentage of our company’s stock in their hands that needs to be protected from the Donald Trumps of the world.   I might also mention that the Australian operation contributes a sizable chunk to our bottom line. We will likely see an increase to our fleet size as a direct result, and we are surely putting ourselves in a position to someday have 747 service into Sydney and Melbourne.

Love him or hate him, Mike Conway is right about this, “We cannot afford to make policy and run this company based on the Jumpseat.” His words not mine.

But, I agree and support his decision to send us to Australia.   I am proud of the accomplishments we made and the professional manner with which we made them. Ansett Airlines has learned a lot from us about operating a deregulated airline.


The America West presence will be felt there long after we all come home.