Sheryl Bachman started working for American Airlines in 1985, and ten years later, when her station shifted to American Eagle, Sheryl kept the uniform, the responsibilities, and the same hourly pay. Today Sheryl works for Envoy, with the same protocols as those of American Airlines agents—but her responsibilities have increased. In Wichita, Sheryl and her Envoy coworkers all have to be qualified to work the ticket counter, baggage, and ramp.
“Back when I started at American, I really appreciated the way the company treated us. If you were a good worker, the company was good to you,” Sheryl says. “Now Envoy seems to want skilled workers at unskilled workers’ wages. In the past 20 years, my wages have gone up less than 50 cents.”
After 2001 U.S. airlines reduced their workforces again and again, and the stress of too few agents doing too many jobs is now reaching a dangerous level for both mainline and regional employees. “In Wichita, we’re short-handed all the time,” says Sheryl. “The passengers see inconsistencies and don’t understand why we don’t have more people to help them. They think that Envoy agents are American agents because it says American behind our counter. But with our current staffing limitations, it’s harder to provide good customer service. Most of the time you are the only agent trying to work an oversold flight, meet it, retrieve gate checks, clean the plane, reload it, and solicit for volunteers—all with no assistance available, and all in just 15 minutes. Envoy wants the door closed 10 minutes prior to departure, which makes it difficult to provide the help passengers expect and deserve. Many times agents are alone on the ticket counter for check in of two flights, acceptance of counter-to-counter shipments , ticket reissues, and tagged bags from the kiosk. We can’t call someone else to help because there is no one else available. We’re working at a bare bones level, and that can’t be right.”
The lack of adequate numbers of agents is part of the reason instances of passenger rage are on the rise. Sheryl explains, “We all want to give excellent customer service but one person can’t deal with everything in rushed periods. In the end, the situation becomes unsafe for everyone.”
One of many crucial questions being addressed in bargaining talks with Envoy right now is the lack of overtime pay. Technically, most Envoy agents in Wichita are part-timers, so even if they’re working multiple extra shifts, or extended shifts on a regular basis, they don’t receive extra compensation.
Sheryl loves her job and says she has always been proud to work for American and Envoy but things have changed since the 1980s. “I think American still treats its employees like assets, with good pay and respect. But having seen both sides, I think Envoy sees us as liabilities, not assets. I really hope this will change. At the bargaining table we need to make management understand our value.”