Union Raises American Airlines Safety Concerns

Filed Under: American, Unions

“If you care about your families’ safety, do not put them on an American Airlines flight until this injunction is vacated.”

American Airlines’ situation with their mechanics just keeps getting messier and messier.

American’s restraining order against their mechanics

American Airlines and their mechanics are currently in the middle of a heated battle. They’ve been trying to negotiate a new contract, but have gotten nowhere. Talks broke down in April, as management and the union couldn’t even get close to agreeing on terms.

Since then things have gotten ugly. American Airlines has sued their mechanics union, claiming that mechanics are intentionally delaying and canceling flights. Statistics support that (722 flights were canceled in the 23 days following the lawsuit), but mechanics deny this is happening.

American Airlines has won a restraining order against their mechanics, demanding this “illegal slowdown” stop. Whether or not this has any actual impact remains to be seen, given that mechanics deny doing anything wrong. They claim they’re just trying to do their jobs properly.

Concerns raised over American’s safety practices

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, which has nearly 3,500 members at Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines, has advised their members not to fly American Airlines. As they explain:

“If you care about your families’ safety, do not put them on an American Airlines flight until this injunction is vacated.”

Personally it seems pretty clear to me that this is simply one union showing solidarity to another. I say that because I’m not sure I understand the AMFA’s logic here.

In theory I see how they could make this argument. They could argue that mechanics are scared to write up problems out of fear of being punished and violating the restraining order. That would be sound enough logic.

The national director of the union had the following to say:

“FAA investigations and CBS News reports confirm that American has been operating under a compromised maintenance safety culture for years with management resorting to coercive practices to suppress reports of aircraft damage. With the issuance of this injunction, a mechanic who detects corrosion must not only be concerned about losing job; he will now be concerned about facing fines or imprisonment.”

The reason this doesn’t really make sense to me is because it’s being suggested that members should avoid American Airlines until this injunction is lifted. At the same time, their whole basis for the argument is that American Airlines has had poor maintenance for years, in which case shouldn’t this warning have been issued earlier, and shouldn’t it extend beyond the period of the restraining order?

Several FAA documents referencing American’s efforts to suppress reports of aircraft damage are cited. Part of the statement from the AMFA includes the following:

  • A memorandum by H. Clayton Foushee, FAA Director of Audit and evaluation, dated March 25, 2015, citing an “exemplary investigation” in which federal investigators substantiated that American management “pressured [mechanics] to not record discrepancies, take shortcuts with maintenance activities, or improperly sign-off on work which was not actually completed.
  • An FAA finding referenced in the same memorandum that the coercive environment “may be much more prevalent across American’s organization than even the complainant’s [sic] alleged, affecting maintenance activities in Dallas, New York, Miami and beyond.Additionally, there exists a substantial likelihood that American has not properly conducted lightning strike inspections for a protracted period of time.”
  • An FAA investigatory report dated February 27, 2015, which determined: “American Airlines Mechanics were pressured through the burden of mental distress by having the weight of social or economic imposition placed upon them.The Mechanics were pressured to deviate from proper maintenance procedures and/or not write up identified discrepancies/deficiencies.

Bottom line

It goes without saying that safety needs to be the absolute top priority in the airline industry. At the same time I’d like to think the safety standard used by most major US airlines is sufficient, and I think the safety records of US airlines speak for themselves.

Sure, I want mechanics to feel empowered to take planes out of service when they have concerns, but at the same time it seems like a huge spike in maintenance related cancelations only happens during contract negotiations.

Southwest Airlines had the same thing happen. They saw a huge spike in maintenance issues during contract negotiations, and suddenly those stopped when a contract was reached. So this only leaves a few options:

  • Mechanics are intentionally writing up an unnecessary number of issues during contract negotiations
  • For whatever reason, airplanes start to basically fall apart during contract negotiations
  • Mechanics don’t care about safety when there aren’t contract negotiations, but do care when there are

I don’t find the AMFA’s logic here to be good. They claim American has had a bad safety culture for years, and tells their members to avoid American Airlines, but only until the restraining order is lifted. Why stop there, and why weren’t these concerns raised prior to a few months ago?

Comments
  1. woah they are really fighting teeth and nail to the bitter end with this, absolutely nuts, but such bitterness has got to come from somewhere I guess?
    Up next in this Netflix drama series: Doug Parker fixes an A321T himself but forgot to offload his executive privilege causing the landing gear to collapse due to excessive stress, an American mechanic deadheading pretends to be giving a birth to force the flight to turn around, but was later revealed to be a man, and two dozen crying gate agents, stay tuned!

  2. Are they not saying that a mechanic has been under pressure in the past to avoid minor reports via the management structure but now additionally they could be accused of being in breach of the injunction. So are even more afraid to report maintenance issues as its not only management consequences but now the force of law consequences via the injunction. None of this installs a culture of safety and therefore can lead to accidents.

  3. I wouldn’t begin to comment on the mechanics contract with AA; however, I would say that AA was correct in seeking legal recourse on behalf of investors, passengers, and their other employees for what is clearly a work slowdown caused by the union and its members. Unfortunately this action has almost certainly deepened the chasm between management and employees. At the end of the day all this acrimony is making AA a worse airline for its stakeholders when what it really needs is a total re-boot of its culture which is impossible as long as existing management stays in place..

  4. I’ve been delayed hours and hours on hot planes just this week. Just yesterday our pilot admitted on the intercom he doesn’t know why there’s a mechanical hold for our flight and doesn’t know why we didn’t have AC connected to the plane with many babies and families onboard.

    Shame on the mechanics and shame on AA’s management for wasting time away from people’s lives and productivity just to gain or save some hundreds of dollars.

    The union’s logic is absolutely flawed that AA made $3B and so they have to take a bigger piece of the pie for the mechanics. Newsflash, that’s how corporate works, some years you make profit and invest in the bottom line and other years you don’t make profit and you cut costs. It’s called the business cycle and if you don’t like it go open your own business and show us all how you’d distribute profits, if you can make any!

  5. @BAQ – You’re completely correct. Delta used the last downturn in the business cycle to re-negotiate their labor agreements as well as their pay structure with the non-union flight attendants in a way that allowed the employees to share in good times and help conserve resources to survive during the lean years. It’s worked out great for the employees the last five years.

    Look at the auto industry where union officials had the same attitude as the AA mechanics union for years – when times are good negotiate for more and when times are bad keep getting paid as if things are great until the company has no choice but declare bankruptcy…

    https://news.delta.com/following-13-billion-profit-sharing-payout-delta-employees-will-be-paid-640000-volunteer-hours

  6. @DLPTATL yep. Would the union allow a section in the new contract about taking a salary cut when (not if) profits fall? Of course they wouldn’t.

  7. My comment might meet with derision from other readers. If so, that is fine. But this is why I have no use for unions. I have no problem with a group of workers coming together to negotiate together, i.e. collectively. That is freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, economic liberty, etc. I definitely appreciate how it changes the balance of power in a negotiation. But I draw the line of my understanding and grudging support when a group turns to what I see as blatantly deceptive and customer-unfriendly practices.

    I understand they have a disagreement with management, but at the end of the day, the customer is why they have a job that pays ANYTHING. And their actions are not hurting management as much as they are hurting the very people who make their livelihood possible. When a flight is significantly delayed, the impact can be far more than the minutes or hours that the passenger spends waiting to depart. Connections can be missed, critical meetings can be missed, major family events like weddings or funerals could be missed, vacations, years in the works, could be significantly harmed, etc. The selfish actions of this union could have a broad variety of negative effects on uninvolved parties, i.e. collateral damage.

    The negative impacts are why I would prefer management to have the right to fire these workers, just as they could any other worker, should that be the best economic course of action. If management feels it is cheaper to recruit and retrain other workers who would agree to the compensation package offered by the employer, they should be free to do so. If, however, those workers are too valuable, too specialized, too costly to train, etc. that it is a better choice to work harder with them, that is fine too. The negative impact on customers and the business would factor into this.

    In a practical sense, actions like these of a union in question along with unions acting in solidarity eliminate what sympathy I have for them. I don’t have a dog in this fight not living in an AA hub city and rarely flying the airline, but this point I am squarely on the side of management and the customer.

  8. I would avoid AA because it seems odd that the flying public needs to be dragged into this management/union negotiation.

  9. Union is a huge cancer and needed to be removed, and they won’t win this lawsuit in Texas.
    No wonder AA is likely to drop ORD due to these clowns in Chicago. Unions can go down with Chicago together.

  10. Well for those of you that don’t work for AA you should know the employees did give in the bad times. AA threatened to file bankruptcy unless the employees helped them and that is what we did. We gave back 20% of our pay , 1 week vacation, 5 holidays per year , 7 sick days per year and other work rules. Well the company gladly took this and saved tons of money and guess what a few years later with over $4 billion dollars in the bank they took advantage of the employees and the system and filed bankruptcy anyway. While they operate under bankruptcy contacts with their employess they continue to make billions and the employee sacrifices continue until this day. So when upper management gets millions in stocks and golden parachutes when they leave it does not sit well with employees. All this is fact and easily found if you search.

  11. @Derek — Generally, highly skilled professionals aren’t allowed to join unions for the reasons you mention. But unlike most industries, airlines operate under the archaic Railway Labor Act of 1926 and stupid stuff like this routinely happens. It tends to be bad for company, worker and customer. But nobody is ever going to have the political capital to change it. Just be glad the rest of our economy doesn’t function this way. The good news is that now that the court has stepped in, customers are unlikely to be directly impacted by the squabble for the foreseeable future. The slowdown will immediately end because the union and their leaders would face millions of dollars in individual damages.

  12. So glad I live in a city where there are plenty of airlines to choose from. Good luck to those who are AA captive and needs to travel constantly. Maybe time to move to a city where you are not captive to any airline if your job requires you to travel frequently? My sympathies to you.

    It’s time for AA to split into US Airways and American Airlines. Maybe customer service, employee morale, and profit will be better since current management clearly can’t do anything right perhaps due to the size of the company and past “luggages”.

  13. AA just fired 5 maintenance managers at DFW last week. Gee I wonder why that was? Could it be that strong arm tactics dont work after all?

  14. I am a liver transplant survivor and diabetic who was stuck on a flight going from Tampa to Dallas a week ago. Other than being a bottle of water at the start of a 9-hour wait, I was laughed at, yelled at, and mocked at by airline staff. In addition, there was no food or water on the flight, so I ended up having an anxiety attack caused by low sugar. I virtually had to beg to leave the flight, which, incidentally never left the gate except to taxi to the tarmac and return.

  15. @ Lucky. Fortunately we made the choice to book on Turkish airlines to meet up with my bro and sister in law in Venice late August. But they wanted to fly AA via ORD (their choice). Now, because of these concerns that have surfaced, do you think AA would allow them to rebook on a partner airline over water if they expressed their concerns? How stressful it is to think your travel plans could be delayed, cancelled, or even your safety could be at risk due to these intense labor disputes.

  16. This is typical of unions. They make outrageous demands because they think if a company is making any profit they’re screwing the union members. They ignore the fact that a company needs to make a profit. As others have said, if this is truly a safety issue why is it only for the duration of the injunction?

  17. I have AA flights next week with a connection so I checked how they would have gone today. Delays across the board, all day long! Started checking some of their hub to hub flights and they are consistently all delayed. Can’t change my flights now, just hoping for good AV karma 🙁

  18. With the issuance of this recent injunction, an AA mechanic who detects corrosion must not only be concerned about losing their job; he will now be concerned about facing fines or imprisonment for writing it in the long book.

    The complete failure to protect AA Mechanics’ ability to use their professional discretion for airline safety.

    The message that will be delivered to the frontline AA mechanics, goes along with a Federal Judge dictating and ruling that (the collective body of AA Mechanics) diminishing or reducing write-ups, can not perform my job and perform my duties under my federally mandated licenses. In which tying the AA Mechanics hands… their are negative safety consequences. That Judge has no clue and has zero respect of the AA Mechanics scope of work or responsibilities, made a ruling-decision that truly is anti-labor and anti-craft.

    Yes, it’s the front line employees are the last line of defense and taking hold of safety. It’s not the carriers maintenance program or carriers management teams who own safety. It is up to the Individual Professional Aviation Technicians…. Its the success of vigilant safety practices and compliance of not to be allowed to be bullied, harassed or threatened into taking shortcuts in maintenance. NOT THATS ITS BAD ENOUGH with documented cases of degradation of safety culture by the FAA WITH AA MANAGEMENT, but now even more scrutiny having the Federal Courts dictating under TRO or a Federal injunction restricting the AA MECHANIC’S ability to use their professional discretion for airline safety.

  19. Hmmm…threatening passenger safety? Union mechanics slow down AA so customers go elsewhere? Can’t remember…how did that work out for Eastern? Anyone?

  20. Nothing new….Blame the Mechanics to cover the blame for one bad business decision after bad decision affecting the Maintenance Operations. Gutting areas of the operation which are crucial, and then expecting the Mechanics to work miracles, while they have increased flight schedules to the edge of the envelope, reduced turn-times to a quick turn, reduced time on ground for routine maintenance- inspections and service checks, no additional headcount bare minimum crews,  while they continue to find ways to outsource and insist to send more Aircraft maint. to less skilled and unlicensed FAA vendors in Foreign Aircraft Maintenance Vendors…..No accountability or problems here! ie little to no FAA oversight…no background or drug/alcohol testing in Brazil, El Salvador, China, and other 3rd word countries.

  21. Emotions are a terrible substitute for truth!

    The complete failure to protect AA Mechanics’ ability to use their professional discretion for airline safety.

    Federal Injunction is not a solution

     The message to the frontline employee AA Mechanic goes along with a Federal Judge dictating and ruling that diminishing or reducing write-ups, can not perform my job and perform my duties under my federally mandated licenses. The tying of our hands of fear of writing up a descepency in the Aircraft logbook in violation of an injunction or TRO…..there are negative safety consequences.

    That Federal Judge has no clue and has zero respect for the AA Mechanic’s scope of work or responsibilities on an Aircraft day to day. Our safety sensative evaluation responsibilities are scrutinized by a 3rd party Federal Judge, while being the vigilants of safety and being the last line of defense for the flying public.

  22. My AA flight was delayed 3 1/2 hours today because of a mysterious supposed fluid leakage in the cargo hold. First an hour and a half to clean it up and do an “environmental analysis” then two more hours to sign the log book and load the luggage. The pilot apologized over the PA for the “ridiculous and unnecessary ” delay. Guess he was also fed up with the BS from the mechanics.

  23. Man oh man…. this blog’s comment section is truly soooooo sad to read. If it wasn’t for my curiosity of what the general public felt and thought about the negotiation process, I wouldn’t be on here. Some of you guys do 0 research yet feel it’s absolutely necessary to drop your two cents. This negotiation between the mechanics and management goes beyond your understanding. Especially what Baq had to say. Lol that was so funny, “The union’s logic is absolutely flawed that AA made $3B and so they have to take a bigger piece of the pie for the mechanics. Newsflash, that’s how corporate works, some years you make profit and invest in the bottom line and other years you don’t make profit and you cut costs. It’s called the business cycle and if you don’t like it go open your own business.” Do you actually know how much we AA mechanics have had to give back before the company filed for bankruptcy. They screamed for our help and we gave it. We took pay cuts, we lost a week of vacation, we lost 5 holidays, we lost sick days, and the list goes on. Did you know, a new AA mechanic starts off at the almost same wage then his regional counterpart. The regional is an entry level position, yet you must have years of experience to get hired by AA mainline. Then they also receive up to $15,000 in a sign up bonus, while we received none and neither does a new employee. They also have all 10 holidays, while AA mechanics get none of that. And I’m talking about Envoy (owned by American Airlines). A new AA mechanic gets one week of vacation for his first 5 years. Do you understand that now? For the first 5 years they will only have 5 paid vacation days. We gave back so much, to which the company promised us we will reap the rewards together. We still work under a bankruptcy contract, while the company is reaping profits. Management continues to receive bonuses, and us frontline employees saw like $1,300 in profit sharing. Delta employees saw $14,000. Management will continue to blame the mechanics for the flawed system they have created. Do you know what it’s like to give 110% at work, to hear that the company is accusing us of slowing down work? Cmon, it’s demoralizing and just unfair. You think I will continue to give my best effort if the company continues to make us their scapegoat? There’s so much to say, but I’ve exhausted my efforts since the public will only see what distresses them and blame that work group. May you all have a blessed day.

  24. There seems to be a misconception on the duty and responsibility of an Aircraft Technician day to day scheduled vs unscheduled maint. During the Airlines Operation through the day. 90% of most service and inspections of scheduled Maintenance is performed during overnight (Graveyard shifts) before and after the Normal travel day from 11pm to 6am when planes are not flying- downtime.

    The only time an AA Mechanic meets the plane for unscheduled maint. between Normal travel day of Operation (morning) 6am to (evening) 11pm is when they are called out to the arrival or departure (between flight schedules) is when a Maint. problem discrepancies is discovered or exists in-flight (avianics-bird strike-engine) or on the ground (add oil–tire change-coffee maker-cargo defect-fuel leak) by fuel handler, baggage handler, Flight Attendants and Pilot.

  25. Professionals don’t act like little bitches. Both sides need to shut up with the bullshit and get a contact signed

  26. @Joya. If your competitors have it so much better, why not switch to Delta? Maybe the grass isn’t greener?

  27. This article is committing a logical fallacy. Essentially, it’s (either accidentally or intentionally) pretending that there are only two possible reasons for a safety clamp-down by front line employees. To the writer, it’s must be either A) a negotiating ploy, or B) some cartoonish strawman that would “explain” why this “only seems to happen at negotiations time,” (idk, omg).

    Except that negotiations aren’t the only things going on in the world of aviation right now. As an industry analyst/writer should know.

    There’s also the not-incidental matter of an Atlas Air cargo plane that just fell out of the sky killing everyone on board in Houston. Two Boeing jets fell out of the sky, one operated by Lion Air and the ultra-reliable Ethiopian Air. Also killing everyone on board. The subsequent grounding of the entire MAX aircraft by everyone on the planet…

    And, this is the anniversary of the worst air accident in American history… at American Airlines… more dead.

    But, we just can’t for the life of us understand why (oh why) anyone would suddenly want to start taking aviation safety seriously. Like, whatevs. It must just be nothing because planes don’t ever fall out of the sky because magic. And, those unions can’t be looking out for safety just because. They must be up to something.

    News flash for articles like this. Mechanics have families on those planes.

  28. I flew American Airlines recently, and unfortunately, I think some of the things the labor union is saying are true.

    My flight from Chicago to Paris was supposed to depart at 7 pm. In the beginning, they said it will be just 15-30mins delay due to “cosmetic issues”. But, this happened like 10 times, and later they admitted that the maintenance is having some trouble. We were finally boarded at like 10 pm. We were taking off, accelerating on the runway, and something was off. The plane was shaking too much. I thought it’s just a bumpy road, but the captain turned back and said something’s wrong, he doesn’t know what it is, so he’s moving back to the tarmac. A few minutes later, the captain told us that one of the engines didn’t run while accelerating and the plane was significantly imbalanced. He didn’t feel safe to take off with this plane and he decided to go back to the gate.

    At this point, the passengers on the plane were enraged. Apparently, the same flight the night before was canceled because the maintenance crew “couldn’t find” the document that they had to sign off. And, now they had put us on a deadly plane where the engine doesn’t work from the getgo. People were sarcastically joking that maybe they finally found the document in the engine..

    After reading your articles, I feel like all of this could have been intentional from the AA labor union. I mean, having conflicts within a company is one thing. But, that shouldn’t go all the way to infringing on the customer’s safety. I am so mad at American Airlines right now, and I think they should fix the situation as soon as possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *