NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- An unanticipated labor clash once again is complicating life for the management team of American Airlines ( AAL) , which had hoped that its second major merger in eight years could be viewed as labor friendly.
Like the 2005 merger between America West and US Airways, which also installed Doug Parker's management team at a bigger airline, the 2013 merger between US Airways and American began with high hopes, economic promise and broad support among employees.
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In the former case, a controversial pilot seniority ruling became a lingering sore on an otherwise successful merger. Now, the flight attendants at combined American/US Airways have created complications by narrowly rejecting what has been billed as an industry leading contract. In the vote, counted Sunday, 8,196 flight attendants opposed the contract. Just 16 fewer supported it.
Since the vote, flight attendant pages on Facebook have been filled with divisive posts. Referring to the 16-vote gap, one contract backer wrote: "Those 16 people should be shot." An opponent wrote: "The 'new American' looks like it is going to have the same contentious relationship with management as the old American."
Often in the labor history of airlines, the rejection of a contract offer, especially in a close vote, is followed by a second vote on a slightly revised contract offer. In a recent example, it took three votes before the existing US Airways flight attendant contract was approved in 2013.
However, in this case the two sides had agreed that the next step, if the contract were rejected, was arbitration, where the outcome must conform to industry standard. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants has said that will reduce the contract's value by $81 million. Arbitration begins Dec. 3.
"Like many of you, I was devastated by the results of the TA balloting today," said APFA President Laura Glading, in an email to members Sunday night. "It is extremely disappointing to see the improvements our membership was set to receive rejected by such a narrow margin."
"The negotiations protocol agreement (NPA) requires that we submit the outstanding contractual issues to binding arbitration," Glading wrote.
"This week, the joint negotiating committee will begin preparing the case we will present to the arbitration panel," she continued. "Although the NPA limits the value of the arbitration award to 'market-based in the aggregate,' our team is going to do everything possible to protect our work group."
Aviation consultant Bob Mann said negative fallout from the voting may be limited because "the workout, if the TA was turned down, was described beforehand and is well-choreographed."