Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

They're the country cousins. 

That's how I heard one airline executive describe regional airlines. 

Yet they're the country cousins who deliver a lot of profit to their big city owners. 

One of the ways big airlines do that, say some employees of regional airlines, is to pay those employees very little.

Take employees of American Airlines-owned, Texas-based Envoy Air. 

They're currently negotiating a contract from which they hope to get what their union calls "a living wage."

As one long-time Envoy employee told me: 

I know several agents that are giving plasma. They're working 2 to 3 jobs to survive and the only thing that Envoy tells us is 'if you want American wages go work for American.'

She claims, however, that management tells employees that working for Envoy is a stepping stone to working for American. In practice, that's not the case.

In some of the Envoy stations wages are, employees say, absurdly low. An Envoy employee revealed: 

Do you think the public or passengers would like to know a person making $9.40 an hour is searching their aircraft for bombs, guns and knives?

I suspect they would. I suspect they might even be surprised. 

After 30 years of service, say employees, they might still expect a salary of around $16 an hour.

It's hard work. Employees describe working conditions as very difficult, especially in winter months, Says one employee: 

The daily stress of turning an aircraft within 25 minutes when you have a handicapped person, an aisle chair, an unaccompanied minor or just people who need personal assistance is unbelievable.

Some might say that this is just part of the job the employees signed on for. Yet they're frustrated that negotiations with the airline are dragging on and fear the airline is deliberately stringing them along.

Naturally, I asked Envoy for its view of this apparently fractious situation. 

Chris Pappaioanou, the airline's Vice President, Labor, Legal and Employment, offered an alternative perspective: 

Envoy and the CWA [Communications Workers of America] have been engaged in what are known as Section 6 negotiations. We believe the pace of these negotiations is normal -- particularly in light of the fact that this is the first contract for the Passenger Service Agents and initial agreements typically take longer to finalize than subsequent amendments. 

Pappaioanou told me that all that remains to be agreed are "purely economic open items."

Indeed, the impression I get from Envoy employees that these purely economy open items are making them openly scream in public places. 

After all, they say, workers at another American-owned regional carrier, Piedmont, went to mediation in order to get their recently-agreed contract.  

What, though, about the bomb-checkers being paid $9.40 an hour?

Pappaioanou insisted: 

The current work rules and compensation for the Passenger Service Agents reflects the legal 'status quo' obligations that are imposed on employers during bargaining under the RLA [Railway Labor Act].

Yes, these are railway workers. Didn't you know?

Envoy's management sounds giddily optimistic about an agreement, so much so that it doesn't see the need for mediation. Pappaioanou again: 

Because we believe both parties have continued to narrow open issues without the assistance of a mediator, we do not believe there is any need to initiate that process. 

And as for the idea that Envoy employment is a stepping stone to working at American, he insisted Envoy and American are separate airlines, adding: 

There is no formal path to employment between entities, absent applying as any other interested party. 

Recently, I wrote about a former pilot with another American-owned regional carrier, PSA. He said that he'd sometimes make a flight late because he was so desperate to get food.

The impression one gets is that life at these airlines isn't entirely similar to picknicking. Indeed, Envoy employees tell me staff turnover is high.

Still if, as Envoy's management claims, American and Envoy are separate airlines and negotiations are going well, you'd think everyone would be happy.

Why, then, have I bumped into a petition entitledTell CEO Doug Parker: Envoy Agents Deserve a Living Wage?

Parker is the CEO of American Airlines and, as the petition's creators declare:

American Airlines hides behind the Envoy logo to pay us poverty wages. By paying us so little, the company can maximize their profits, raking in millions for executives like American Airlines CEO Doug Parker who took home $12.2 million last year.

The petition's creators? The Communications Workers of America.

Published on: Oct 14, 2018