FROM WOODEN WINGS
X. THE PIANO PLAYER
Within a short time at United, Wolf started using a new twist in his ability to demand concessions without ever actually saying it- he had the press say it for him.
"Wolf played the press like a piano," observed one ALPA official. United's labor costs had been average for the industry-and pilot costs ranked in the lower half, while United's B-scale pilots earned some of the lowest salaries in the industry. Nonetheless, Wolf began personally briefing the business press to the contrary. He told them how he had to lower his labor costs-how they were way too high. The press bit. Within the next few weeks a number of publications began reporting that Wolf had to have concessions because his labor costs were just too high.
After a closed-door meeting in New York with security analysts in June 1988, a number of brokerage firms quickly reported that UAL's labor costs were too high. Morgan Stanley's Kevin Murphy went so far as to say that "United's pilot costs are the highest in the industry." (Remember, Morgan Stanley was UAL's banker under Ferris.) The July 25, 1988 issue of Barrons reported that "the United pilots are the highest paid in the industry." Wolf was clearly letting the press create the illusion for the public-and the employees-that concessions were needed.
On July 6, 1988, Wolf presented to ALPA his "growth plan" for rebuilding the airline from years of stagnation. As predicted, the pilots would help pay for it. He sought a highly concessionary contract with a five-year pay freeze, a continuation of the B-Scale, a C-scale and reduction in pension contributions.
The following months saw a curious parade of events as Wolf's manipulation of the press went nowhere, and then backfired. In what the pilots and the press widely viewed as a botched attempt to entice the pilots into a concessionary contract, the company asked the MEC negotiating committee to consider accepting the company's July proposal in return for taking Pan Am's delivery positions on a number of Airbus A-320's. The negotiating committee responded that they'd be happy to consider any proposal as long as it was within the guidelines of ALPA's opening letter. The response apparently infuriated Wolf. The company's negotiating team was a no-show at the next scheduled session.
Within several weeks of the "scam A-320 proposal," the Wall Street Journal nailed the coffin on Wolf's strategy of getting pilot concessions before he would buy new aircraft. To the company's certain embarrassment, the Journal reported in a front-page article that Wolf intended to purchase a large number of Boeing aircraft. The paper reported that Wolf didn't want to announce his intentions until he could get concessions from the pilots, and it added that United "apparently doesn't want the pilots to know they are going to buy them anyway." United said the story wasn't true. Six months later Wolf bought the airplanes.
In December 1988 both Ferg and Barry retired. Ferg's apparent hatred for ALPA didn't seem to stop at retirement. Within a few months Ferg took one last blast at ALPA on CBS' West 57th Street. Barry's retirement was five years early. According to those who knew him, Barry had a very deep seated resentment for the loss of the strike and the pilots disrespect for him that left him a very bitter and unhappy man.
John Zeeman, Ferris' Executive Vice President of Marketing resigned in May 1989. Of Ferris' group of senior executives who had taken part in the 1985 assault on the pilot group, only one still remains. Ironically, it is Jim Guyette, the man who organized and led the strike effort for Ferris. But the other irony is that the United pilots, after the ESOP Initiative, eventually watched the departure of almost all of the senior executives who had tried to replace them in the 1985 strike.