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US Airways issues guidelines to keep employees from talking; workers denounce rules as 'another form of intimidation'

Karen Ferrick-Roman, Times Staff 01/08/2004

The Times Photo Illustration

US Airways wants its employees to shut their mouths about what's going
on in the company - unless they hear or see other employees talking. Then
they can rat on co-workers via the company hot line or Web site.

Within the last week, the airline has sent a 26-page booklet to all
employees, titled "Business Conduct and Ethics Policy."

The booklet's first page reads: "As an employee of US Airways Inc., or
of one of the wholly owned subsidiaries of US Airways Group, you have an
obligation at all times to promote the company's interests."

Besides not talking to the media, which has been a long-standing
company policy, the handbook also bans employees from identifying themselves
as US Airways employees online.

"It's yet again another form of intimidation, kind of censoring the
employees away from letting the public and media know what's going on
internally," said Teddy Xidas, president of the US Airways' Association of
Flight Attendants.

In a letter that accompanied the booklet, employees are told that
"should you observe or become aware of any violation of this policy, the
company has established a mailing address, a Web site address and a
toll-free hot line where employees can voice their concern, complaint or
question." The letter goes on to say that information provided by employees
is confidential and can be anonymous.

"It's a police state," said Chris Fox, president of the local
Communications Workers of America chapter that represents US Airways

"The last time an executive was here, they were encouraging people to
squeal on fellow employees," Fox said. "We told them straight out, 'We're
not going to be doing that. That's not our job. ... According to our (union)
bylaws and constitution, we don't do that.' We were adamant on that."

Even from their home computers, the booklet said, employees are
"prohibited from identifying yourself as a company employee when posting
comments on the Internet or on other online services. This rule applies even
if a statement is included that clearly states the user is expressing his or
her own ideas and not necessarily those of the company."

How this would affect the US Airways employees Web site and various
newsletters operated by US Airways employees isn't clear.

Asked whether the policy was an attempt to shut down employee Web
sites, US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said: "Not at all. But there
has to be some very clear guidelines as to how US Airways can and cannot be
represented publicly."

"If you imply (online) that you're a US Airways employee, you're
breaking this policy," Xidas said. "What happens? Who knows? I guess it
depends on the gravity of the violation, as the company sees it."

It could result in a warning and reprimand or a firing, she said.

Any corporation has the right to set policy for employees; the First
Amendment kicks in primarily when the government tries to squelch free
speech, Xidas said.

"It doesn't deter me as local union representative of the flight
attendants of Pittsburgh to speak out on behalf of our membership," said
Xidas, who received her booklet on Saturday.

The booklet's policy stating that employees must have the airline's
written permission to hold a second job, including self-employment, is new,
said Fox, who had not yet received her booklet.

"I wonder if this applies to executives themselves," said Fox, noting
that some executives run consulting companies.

The booklet said that "outside employment that might embarrass or
reflect discredit upon or conflict with the best interest of the company for
employees, their spouses, domestic partners or members of immediate families
is not allowed."

"Immediate family," Fox said, "that's a little bit much."

The booklet addresses conflicts of interests and bribes; protecting
the company's nonpublic information, especially against competitors; owning
stock, making political contributions and lobbying; and following safety and
nondiscriminatory rules, as well as other procedures.

"We've always had a business ethics policy," Castelveter said. "It's
only responsible for companies to remind employees of its business ethics."

Castelveter, who would not comment on what is old and what is new in
the policy and whether the employee hot line is new, said, "These are
internal measures. These are policies designed for US Airways to work with
their employees. They're not for public debate. They're not unusual."

However, Xidas made note that the handbooks were mailed after the
leader of the pilots union publicly demanded the ouster of US Airways' chief
executive officer and chief financial officer.

"They want to control what we say to the public," Xidas said. "Nobody
wants to go to a business where they know for sure there's labor unrest."

The policy will be effective, Xidas said.

"Fewer people will know exactly what is going on. And that's the way
management wants it."


Some of the guidelines US Airways spells out:

Employees should not discuss company business with anyone.

If an employee overhears another employee talking about company
business with someone, then it's OK to report it via a company hot line or
Web site.

Employees cannot identify themselves as employees online even on their
personal computers.

Employees must have written consent from management to hold a second
Karen Ferrick-Roman can be reached online at
So, Doug, how long do you think it would take to paint those shuttle planes in Delta colors?

Cause it sure looks like US Airways is going down the tubes.

If United had any money, I'd say they'd get their merger after all.
Cause it sure looks like US Airways is going down the tubes.

[/ QUOTE ]

Eh, those are going to American. The only other worthwhile piece of USAirways is some RJ delievery spots.

I can say this because I don't work there.
It's that kind of crap more than anything else that scares me about getting into this profession. Low wages for a while, I can take, but being shat on every day by the management? No thanks. May a thousand children with toy drums surround those executives for a hundred years.
Amazing how things change, back in the 80's when TWA was having the same type of trouble, there was a rumor of US Air purchasing TWA. TWA thought that US Air was going to be their savior, now look at US Air.
Actually, this doesn't sound very different from the business ethics policy of any job I have ever held.

[/ QUOTE ]

Unfortunately, you are correct, sir.

I have seen some very sleazy stuff that went on. At one job, an exec who was nothing but a figurehead and who didn't do squat made about 1.5 million. Well, I delivered enough in revenue to pay his salary, and for tripling revenue, my boss put me up for a 10 percent raise instead of five.

The butthead said that the company couldn't afford it. I give you 1.5 million and you say you can't afford a few grand more for me?

Did I mention that he collected a $50K bonus for meeting his revenue goals?
I agree that things like that do occur Tony, but it doesn't really relate to the thread here.

What US Airways is trying to do is to protect it's image and brand. It's important to remember that while everyone does have the right to free speech etc, US Airways has a name and reputation to maintain. They need to do that, while ensuring their employees right to free speech. Thus, please don't discuss confidential company strategy and operations in public, and please don't promote your association with the company when posting your own opinions, lest the personal opinions of an employee and the broader opinions of an organization get confused.

I don't think it's sleazy, although it is a little restrictive (I don't like the idea of the hotline... but that's another matter). I think it makes good sense all round, and doesn't result in everyone having to post those nasty "the views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer" disclaimers at the end of every post.

Ultimately, it's in the employees best interests to maintain a positive image for an organization anyway. What would happen if some of their very frequent fliers started to get cold feet about the sitation and switched to another airline. Trust me, the frequent flier schemes will be ready to snap up anyone who decides to switch status in that circumstance.

When I posted the above, I didn't mean to imply that it was a sleazy tactic, just that it's quite common place. They're not gagging their employees, just not allowing them to share company confidential information.

As for requiring sign-off to hold a second job. That seems quite common too. Not sure on the rational for that one though.
But you know what? If they had positive employee relations, do you think that employees would be saying nasty things about them? Nope, they'd be saying good things about them, thus improving their image.

The problem that US Airways has isn't with its employees being pissed off and saying so in public. Whatever that might do to the public image of the company is very minor in comparison to the screw ups of management.

When management says that they have only one plan for the future, and that's getting a merger done even after that merger runs into anti-trust concerns, that's stupid. That does more to blow the image of the company than anything that any employee could do by saying "I'm pissed off at management and they're shafting us."