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Turmoil inside American Airlines pilot union puts possible deal in jeopardy

A possible violation of the union's constitution and bylaws by its negotiating team could stall a potential agreement after three years of contentious negotiations.

DALLAS — This article originally appeared in the Dallas Business Journal, a WFAA news content partner.

A potential long-awaited deal between American Airlines Group Inc. and its pilots could be on the brink of collapse due to turmoil within the Allied Pilots Association.

After more than three years of contentious negotiations, it seemed like Fort Worth-based American (Nasdaq: AAL) and APA had finally reached terms on a new contract when rumors spread earlier this week of a possible tentative agreement. APA President Ed Sicher confirmed the agreement in a message to more than 15,000 members on Friday, but said he pulled the plug on moving forward due to a possible violation of the union's constitution and bylaws by its negotiating team.

"We have waited too long and come too far to not act with great prudence and care to deliver the contract we all deserve," Sicher said. "The [board of directors] must be thorough in its deliberations over what has been presented by the negotiating chair. For those reasons, I am rescinding the call for a meeting on the 31st of October."

Sicher indicated that the union's negotiating committee may have violated a bylaw requiring at least two members to be present when meeting with the company's negotiators in an effort to "make it happen." Sicher said he will work with the board's steering committee to determine an appropriate time to convene a meeting where the entire board can be briefed on the terms of the proposal, the events leading up to the agreement and "a path forward."

The board must approve the deal before it can be sent to the union's general membership for a ratification vote.

"I believe this is the prudent and appropriate course in order to ensure that we all meet our obligations to the membership as set forth in our governing documents," Sicher said. "We will continue to move forward towards a new contract without delay, but as importantly, without haste."

An APA spokesman declined to comment on the situation and the status of the deal. American Airlines also declined to comment.

The proposed two-year tentative agreement offered 12% raises to pilots on the day of signing, along with a 5% increase after one year and another 2% step up a year later. Pay for the more senior captains would be almost $432 an hour two years after signing, while starting pay for a new first officer will rise to $101 an hour, according to a copy of the deal.

American's proposal of 19% pay raises represents an increase from the carrier's last offer of 17% in June.

The tentative agreement also includes a so-called "snap-up" clause if pilots at Delta Air Lines or United Airlines negotiate higher pay rates. The deal also increases long-term disability benefits to a maximum of $12,000 per month, provides a signing bonus of about $1,100 per pilot and includes some quality-of-life improvements.

Some pilots criticized the tentative agreement online in forums and on social media for not providing large enough raises.

If the deal between American and APA falls apart, it would not be the first to do so this year. United and the Air Line Pilots Association announced a tentative agreement in the spring but have since gone back to the negotiating table after that deal faced opposition from union membership. That deal offered 14% pay raises.

The apparent infighting at APA also comes as some of the union's members are pushing for a merger with ALPA and have formed a grassroots organization. In September, APA began surveying members about their interest in a potential merger.

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