Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Ryanair Pilots Offered American Airlines Backing, Cash in Bid to Unionize

Updated on
  • Crews see chance to organize as staff shortage grounds flights
  • U.S. labor group aims to halt spread of ‘indirect employment’

Ryanair Holdings Plc pilots campaigning for unionization amid a staffing crisis that’s led to the cancellation of 20,000 flights have been offered financial backing from American Airlines Group Inc.’s cockpit-crew association.

The Allied Pilots Association has offered to support Ryanair crews in forming a union or joining an existing body such as the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association, according to Daniel Carey, president of the U.S. group, who met with the Dublin-based carrier’s employees last week in the city. The APA is aiming to stem the hiring of staff on unappealing contracts through outsourcing firms.

“We’ve been following the Ryanair model and we don’t want indirect employment to come to America,” Carey said, adding that Fort Worth, Texas-based APA is open to pitching in with communication expertise, IT support, additional manpower and financial assistance.

Ryanair has been forced to scrap flights affecting more than 700,000 people after the carrier failed to prepare for a change to annual-leave rules, requiring it to cram a year’s worth of vacation into nine months. The timetable cuts will trim growth and threaten to hurt the company’s reputation, giving employees a chance to force through unionization that Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary said last month would come only when “hell freezes over.”

Pilots everywhere are particularly keen to head off a trend toward third-party hiring led by Ryanair, which not only results in inequitable contracts and a lack of collective-bargaining power but also makes it tougher to secure mortgages and pensions, Carey said. The APA would assist with any campaigns that might be organized as well as help fund legal costs.

‘Miser Act’

“It’s time to cut out the Michael the Miser act and sit down and have a proper labor-relations department,” he said. “That works better for the passengers, the shareholders, for management and for pilots.”

Carey didn’t say how much financial support the APA, which represents 15,000 American Airlines pilots and is the largest independent union for aviators, might be able to provide to Ryanair employees. The association is active in Washington and has lobbied on issues including flight safety, training and the reduction of fatigue, though providing funds abroad would be an unusual step.

Ryanair has already agreed raises of 10,000 euros ($11,760) for captains and 5,000 euros for first officers stationed in Dublin, London Stansted, Berlin and Frankfurt, and plans to meet with other base representatives in coming months.

The carrier referred requests for comment on the APA’s involvement to a Sept. 27 statement in which it said it would not meet with pilot unions, only with its employee representative committees. Ryanair has said anonymous demands for group meetings have come from pilots and unions at competitor airlines keen to pursue an industrial-relations agenda at its expense.

Court Ruling

Ryanair shares rose 2.7 percent to 17.34 euros. That helped erase the stock’s losses since the first round of cancellations were announced after the close on Sept. 15 and lifted the company’s market value to 20.5 billion euros.

The European Court of Justice said last month that Ryanair employee lawsuits can be heard in jurisdictions where they are based, something analysts reckon could led to it being required to employ staff on local contracts. The ruling represented a “big boost” for pilots as they seek to organize, Carey said, while also prompting investor concern that Ryanair’s labor costs might rise, undermining its competitive edge.

Evan Cullen, president of the Irish pilots’ union, said that while organizations like the APA can be of assistance, it is for Ryanair’s pilots to decide whether they want to act as one collective body or retain the status quo. He added that Ryanair crews are “afraid individually to raise their heads,” while stating that his union is not engaged in any industrial action at the carrier.

— With assistance by Mary Schlangenstein

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