Judge Orders American Mechanics To Stop Delaying Flights

Filed Under: American, Unions

Update: American Airlines has won their court battle against mechanics.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how American Airlines filed a lawsuit against TWU-IAM, which is the union representing their mechanics.

Why American is suing their mechanics

American and their mechanics union are currently in the middle of a heated contract negotiation. Or more accurately they’re not currently negotiating, as talks were called off in April, which is the problem.

American management claims that the union has tried to “illegally gain leverage in contract negotiations by directing a coordinated and deliberate illegal slowdown focused on the maintenance operation.”

They go on to say that “125,000 customers have been affected by 650 flight cancellations and more than 1,500 maintenance delays as a result of this slowdown,” and that “the odds of this being random as opposed to concerted activity are less than one-in-one billion.”

Note that those numbers were as of mid-May. The situation got worse since American filed their lawsuit. In the 23 days after they filed their lawsuit there were 722 flights canceled due to maintenance problems, which represents nearly 70% of all maintenance-related cancelations during the previous 14 weeks (and keep in mind things were already bad in those previous 14 weeks, so things went from very bad to much worse).

American 777 (probably shortly before a maintenance issue was found)

Federal judge issues restraining order against mechanics

Yesterday a federal judge ordered the union representing American’s mechanics to not interfere with airline operations. Fort Worth Judge Judge John McBryde granted this, saying that it’s warranted because American is likely to win their claim that the TWU-IAM are violating federal labor law.

A trial is set for July 1, 2019.

American 737 (probably shortly before a maintenance issue was found)

Will the restraining order solve anything?

So, will American’s operational issues suddenly improve, given this restraining order? I’d guess probably not. While the judge is telling the union they’re not allowed to coordinate a slowdown, that doesn’t mean anything will actually change.

The union vehemently denies that any sort of action is being taken to intentionally slow down the operation. I’ve had many mechanics comment on my posts over the past couple of weeks, and not a single one has even anonymously said “yeah, we’re doing that.” They’ve all just basically said “our job is to find things wrong and make sure planes are 100% safe, and that’s what we’re doing.”

At the same time, the head of TWU-IAM has made some bold threats. He has threatened:

  • “The bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement ever saw”
  • If it comes down to a strike, it will be “absolutely vicious” and will be “organized by a guy that came out of the New York City subway system that’s well inclined to strike power and who understands that the only way to challenge power is to aggressively take it to them”
  • To “shut this place down”

So I don’t think this restraining order by a judge will do anything. It may very well be that this isn’t officially coordinated by the union. Just as the lawsuit being filed made things even worse, I could also see this restraining order make things even worse.

Southwest recently had a similar situation, and they pinpointed the increase in grounded planes on a group of around 100 mechanics. I suspect something similar is happening at American.

American A319 (probably shortly before a maintenance issue was found)

Bottom line

Statistics don’t lie (well, at least if looked at correctly), and I’m absolutely convinced that mechanics are intentionally slowing down the operation in hopes of gaining leverage.

However, I’m not necessarily convinced this is something the union is officially orchestrating, but rather it could very well be that small groups of mechanics are taking this upon themselves, similar to what happened at Southwest.

I highly doubt that any lawsuit is going to be successful in solving the core of this problem. Much like at Southwest, the only thing that’s going to lead to favorable results is a real negotiation between management and the mechanics. Talks broke off between them in April, so the sooner they can return to the bargaining table, the better.

While American can prove the operation is being slowed down, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to pinpoint this on any specific party in a way that will help their situation.

American filing a lawsuit made things even worse, so I guess we’ll now see what impact a restraining order has on the operation.

Do you think this restraining order will lead to an increase or decrease in maintenance related delays and cancelations?

  1. Either an aircraft is in compliance with maintenance standards or it is not. Falsely claiming compliance or non-compliance are equally bad outcomes.

    I have worked in the railroad, aerospace metals, defense and utility industries. In every single case there is an appetite by senior management to ignore rules when it is convenient to do so. There is no doubt that Parker and his cohorts encourage such behavior by line management.

    “Work to rule” slows everything to a crawl. That is what is happening at AA. Part of the issue is outsourcing work to Asia and Latin America also. This practice should be banned.

    Flying is too cheap. There is a price to pay for cutting corners (see Boeing 737 Max).

  2. Just look at him (union leader). Simple, overweight, uneducated, nyc trash. His parents are polish/Italian immigrants.

    I, along with everyone, side with management.

    Poor AMR. I just sold all my shares in the stock.

  3. safety first. No one here is privy to what is written in the log book. AND if the mechanics were falsifying a written record, there WOULD be an action taken.

    @usairIScursed – that’s how you make a point?

  4. All mechanics should be fired and let them find a mew job with similar salaries, then they will realize importance about their current high paying job.

  5. Will likely only make things worse. If it is a group of mechanics doing this, then those who are turning a blind eye to it are just as much to blame. And since bringing down the airline will hurt all of the mechanics, that’s an even stupider plan.

  6. There is zero chance this will improve.

    Game theory

    First possibility
    Mechanics are not intentionally slowing things down. If so, there is nothing anybody can do

    Second possibility
    Mechanics are slowing things down.
    If they stop slowing things down, then things will improve. Which proves that the mechanics were slowing things down. Which puts them at a disadvantage in contract negotiations

    So you see, even if there was a mechanics slowdown they cannot possibly stop doing this.

    In the end, this is a common outcome when you have conflict between asymmetric parties

    The consolidation of business has lead to this. It will worsen.

  7. If they stop this might be good news since I am out of DFW with AA on Monday 17 June to LHR.

  8. I agree with @upstater. Specifications are supposed to be written so that there is a clear black and white answer as to whether the maintenance item is being met or not. If mechanics are finding legitimate noncompliance with the maintenance specification to slow down operations then what really can you do? What should you do?

  9. @UsairIScursed not sure if you’re being serious, but your comment regarding heritage is inappropriate.

  10. @Andre: so are you saying suddenly around contract negotiations, mechanics actually started doing their job and making sure aircraft are safe ? That means they were not doing their job properly before. This greed from mechanics wont last long, its just matter of time.

  11. If the mechanics are finding legitimate issues – which they have to be or they would be reported – it would probably mean that previously, American encouraged these to not be reported, or this rise would not exist. Maybe the leverage is they do their actual jobs, which American normally doesn’t want them to do to cut corners and save money and time. If the mechanics are faking the extra work, then they would be immediately stopped probably.

  12. @DealGrabber: I think Andre was maybe stating that management encourages mechanics to sorta “cut corners” when it suits management for, say, on time performance. So, delaying “unnecessary” maintenance and such. Now, however, mechanics are following the strict letter of the “law” when it comes to maintenance. Writing things up as soon as they’re due and taking a plane out of maintenance once it enters any maintenance window, even though it may be operationally convenient. The end result is mechanics are still acting legally, but “more” legally now. If that makes sense. They’re not allowing for any wiggle room that management requires because they (management) schedules poorly on the assumption that maintenance can wait.

  13. @john @usairlscursed not only inappropriate but also naive and ignorant. We are all immigrants unless you come from Native American tribes descent and I am skeptical.

  14. A restraining order grants AA the right to fire any mechanic and union can’t even murmur.
    Union better bring their bs back to NYC and Chicago. Other States do not welcome this cancer.

  15. There are no “native americans”. Human life didn’t begin in the Americas so we are all immigrants.

  16. I’m with Bill, “Native Americans” (sic) are Asian immigrants whose ancestors walked across a no longer existing land bridge, or sailed along it close to shore.

    You can reference how many generations your people have been here, but everyone is descended from immigrants. So either everyone born here is a ‘native’ American, or no one is…

  17. These union tactics, orchestrated by leadership or otherwise, are not helping their negotiating position. Whether one flies AA or other carriers, most passengers who travel at all, are probably in solidarity with management. Their misguided attempt to bring management “to their knees” may hurt AA’s bottom line but, more importantly, will hurt a lot of innocent passengers who end up as collateral damage. And in the long term, it turns public opinion against organized labor and eventually management, playing the long game, will win and the unions will become weaker. Samuelson can end this and he would be better positioned if he did. Instead of getting the best deal for the current rank and file, he’s more focused on solidifying future union jobs which (surprise) best serves the interest of union leadership.

  18. AA mechanics are being so unprofessional and nasty. If not happy, then go on a complete strike.

    How would you like it if your Mom mistreated you but not to the point of child abuse? Or if the police stopped you to delay you because of some legal technical excuse?

  19. Dont kid yourself when its happening on this scale the union at some level is behind it. Don’t seriously expect mechanics to come here and publicy post the truth.

  20. Let ‘em strike. Northwest proved how it’s possible to replace striking mechanics and still maintain operations.

  21. What I can’t figure is what American gets out of going to war with their own people. Assuming there is a campaign to slow down things, the airline has to be losing gobs of money due to the cancelled flights. As Southwest showed, it’s actually a lot cheaper to offer a fair contract than keep bleeding because you want to hose your people. These people took big pay cuts when things were bad and now want some consideration when things are good. That doesn’t even consider the acrimony that AA is causing, which is terrible for everyone. Parker is an idiot, but this seems pretty crazy even for him.

  22. Does anybody remember the collapse of Eastern Airlines when they had similar union problems?

  23. I don’t think it’s the Mechanics falsely taking an aircraft out of action it might be that they are now doing everything by the guidelines.

    For Example
    I work in a hotel as an assistant manager and I also help out on housekeeping most days.
    The hotel is part of the UK’s largest hotel chain and has very specific guidelines on how to clean rooms.
    The rules say that housekeepers clean 1 room at a time and follow a strict route that even gives times (e.g. 13.5 seconds to replace the pillow cases) however our Housekeepers normally opened all the rooms and stripped the beds in all rooms first etc. They were meeting the estimated times this way but technically was doing it against company policy but the job got done fast and well so no one cared.
    Then we got a new manager who decided to follow the rule book to the letter and told the Housekeepers they’d face disciplinary if they opened more than one room at a time. Anyway the time the Housekeepers spent on rooms became a lot longer and that was because the HK decided to print off the room cleaning guide and follow it deliberately doing everything on the list in the order and that meant they ended up taking over an hour longer to clean the rooms.
    Basically after a while of the Manager getting in trouble because the HK hours went up he decided to let everyone go back to the way it used to be done and now their times are back to normal.

    So it is likely that the mechanics are doing the same
    Problem – Paint bubbling on wing edge
    Mechanics before union issues
    Well it doesn’t pose a safety threat after inspecting it
    After the union issues started
    Well in the handbook it says any damage or distortion to the planes skin needs to be thoroughly investigated so we best take it back to the hanger just to be sure

  24. The TRO will be successful. They aren’t going to defy a federal order because they’d be fired immediately and in all likelihood blacklisted. So yes this should solve a lot of the issues for now. Anyone saying it will have no impact simply doesn’t understand the legal system

  25. The restraining order is appropriate and when there is a labor/legal issue have the Judge rule on it and stop these delay gamesmanship.

  26. I can assure you that Judge McBryde is no one to to be trifled with. Union leadership would be crazy to do anything but make sure their members comply with the injunction.

  27. @Charlie – Charlie Bryant, IIRC was the union head who said that he would be happy to see the airline sink unless he got what he wanted. A different circumstance in many ways, but a cautionary tale nonetheless. Eastern was not doing great financially and there was viable competition, with lots of big airlines still around. Neither is true in this case.

  28. Can’t believe this bunch of union thugs! They are worse than the mafia! Amazing the mechanics don’t get a clue and dump the union so their pay goes up instead of lining the pockets of the union leadership idiots!

  29. Simpliest way to solve this.

    Go ask Jimmy Hoffa.

    I’m sure AA can solve any disputes for the next decade by pulling a Hoffa.

  30. The path forward for AA:

    1. Sign a new contract with any/all Unions, giving them everything they want
    2. See the financial repercussions when airfares must rise to pay for the new wages
    3. File for bankruptcy protection (they definitely know how)
    4. Have the bankruptcy court cancel all of AA’s contracts, including labor
    5. Start over, again
    6. Lather
    7. Rinse
    8. Repeat

  31. Great, now when faced with a maintenance issue mechanics have to ask whether they are more scared of a court ruling that snagging a plane for a valid concern is them trying to fake something or scared of the FAA stripping them of their AME license for ignoring the FARs.

    If an incident or accident happens because someone is scared they will be fired for snagging something that will be a fun fight.

    Also, a lot of people in love with AA on this one, they must pay fantastic dividends or something for you guys to be this in love with the taste of shoe polish. I don’t hold US stocks so I don’t know, how amazing is it for you guys to risk pulling an Eastern?

  32. I talked to an AA manager a few days ago and he made some good points:
    1) Statistically there is no chance that the slowdown is random
    2) Mechanics get overtime for travel to repairs and these jobs have traditionally been easy to fill, but now they have zero mechanics willing to travel.
    3) They cannot legally strike
    4) This issue/negotiations go back 3 years

    In addition, a flight attendant told me recently (after my flight was cancelled) that the mechanics will wait till it is boarding time and then take flights out of service for non critical issues. This way the logistical negative impact is maximized.

  33. Re: can mechanics take planes out even when everything is good?

    Of course they can! Have you ever heard of this line “it looks ok, but sounds wrong” about your car? Or similar judgement calls. General speaking, mechanics/engineers would need some flexibility to ensure safety. And if they maximize on these flexibility, the whole system will grind to a halt.

    Furthermore, they don’t need to declare an airplane inoperative to take it out of service. I would imagine there are multiple levels of servicing, from simple refueling to complete rework. The mechanics can demand excessive treatments every time, and the airlines won’t be able to do fly in time ever.

    Re: negotiation tactics.

    I find this to be extremely disgusting. Don’t get me wrong, I usually favor labor, but this is another level.

    Look, of the mechanic want to strike, strike. AA will suffer. That’s legitimate.

    However, to continue collecting paychecks (probably that’s why they don’t strike) while sabotaging is unacceptable. That’s cheating, plain and simple.

    I think they should just strike. Grow a pair and actually put your wallet where your mouth is. If you don’t have courage to strike, if you collect paychecks, do your job properly.

  34. We continue to witness the pros and cons of unions. While they brought us plenty of good things, they continue to abuse and detract from the positives.

  35. How much do American Airlines mechanics make ? And if they have benefits,what are those benefits ?
    If they are well paid and financially well treated compared to other mechanics in US aviation then their “sabotage “in delaying flights is not legitimate at all.
    If they are paid peanuts and don’t get all the perks others get in the same industry then they have nothing to lose when delaying flights .

  36. I support the mechanics and the laborers who are fighting for their cause. Corporations throughout the world exploit the lower strata. The exploitative culture must end, even if it means at the expense of some of us (me included). Progress requires disturbance of the status quo – it’s ironic how many forget that much of the civil liberties enjoyed by many today, required fighting for. Certainly there should be no defense for a miserable and unethical corporation such as AA.

  37. @Emily

    In the modern world there are instruments to fight for your rights, including union strikes which trust me, are quite effective. What’s been done here it’s simply called sabotage. It’s stupid and hurting their job because it’s favoring competitors that will evidently treat their workers in the same ways. So it’s wrong. Period!

  38. The lazy union sloth’s complain that the CEO makes a few million dollars. HELLO, what CEO of a billion dollar company makes less than $1 mil? If AA is such a bad company to work for, quit your bellyaching and go find a better job! Oh I forgot, your too lazy and weak to put your donut and coffee down to actually do some work, so you just complain! This isn’t socialism, so no one owes you a job..now GET TO WORK and ear your pay!

  39. Here’s an example, flight 1808 from Vegas to Phoenix (which I’m on) was just delayed after the plane pulled away from the gate. The captain said the mechanics said their computer system wasn’t communicating properly with the plane and they had to return to the gate to swap something out. I may miss my connection.

    This is after I was stranded in Vegas for 2 night due to weather. Total bullshit! I’ve lost faith in this company, and I should probably sell my stock (at a huge loss) because they have really gone down the shitter.

  40. Just stumbled upon this sight after hearing of the restraining order against the union. AA is just a Walmart in the sky when it comes to giving employees decent pay and benefits. MAKE AMERICA GREAT by giving its skilled workers a living wage. And stop corporate welfare! These money sucking corporations pay little to nothing in taxes, and remember: AA got bailed out once already by the taxpayers. No more! If they can’t run a decent profitable business that doesn’t enslave or kill people (ie: Max and Dreamliner), they should get out.

  41. @Janet, I am clear of you and your fellow supporters of MAKE AMERICA GREAT understand the comparison to Walmart is sad and pathetic. The employees there are paid a livable wage, given full benefits, etc. Do you remember when your beloved farmers continue to receive subsidies and bailouts from poor spontaneous decions on tariffs, as well as the annual bailouts simply to either not to plant or limit production? And to read “If they can’t run a decent profitable business that doesn’t enslave or kill people (ie: Max and Dreamliner), they should get out.” just makes me laugh. Are you out of high school?

  42. “Flying is too cheap. There is a price to pay for cutting corners (see Boeing 737 Max).”

    Sure there is, but Americans don’t want to pay more for anything. They want the lowest price on everything.

    Doesn’t matter if quality is compromised or if it’s prison-made goods.

    See also: cheap plastic stuff from China at Wal-Mart

  43. @Magice the airline unions operate under what’s called the Railway Labor Act or RLA. The contracts never expire-they become amendable after a certain date for what’s called a “section 6 opener” For any pilot/FA/mechanic/Ramp Union to call a strike it literally follows a specific set of steps and goes down to the wire and can take an act of the president (“presidential mediation board”) to stop the strike.

    The injunction is a bunch of garbage in my view-if the mechanics are sick and tired of VOLUNTEERING their time to KEEP planes running ON TIME-then what shortcuts are they taking to keep the planes running normally? You work to get paid and having a fair contract with job protections against outsourcing the maintenance to South America or China/Asia is a reasonable request-both for the mechanics and the safety of passengers overall.

    @UnionsSuck You’ve probably never worked a day in your life. You’ve also got no clue what it means to be union. “Sloths” that volunteered time to keep the company going… “Lazy” workers who took concessions to keep the company going. Not anymore buddy. I’ll bet you’re one of those executive types who’d rather drive a company into the ground than give a fair contract to workers. Until you’ve walked a mile in these mechanics or ANY other union member’s shoes, keep your mouth shut.

    If anyone has questions about the RLA, here’s a link:

    I’d be happy to answer detailed questions if there are any pertaining to it.

  44. For those that don’t get it and are calling for the mechanics to “suck it up and strike”

    -It literally takes an act of the president to be able to strike (and that will not likely happen in this particular administration)

    -For now, BECAUSE of the way the law (RLA) is worded and the procedures in place, the mechanics must wait until all the steps are exhausted, then wait ANOTHER 30 days after being released from mediation (“cooling off” period)

    -EVEN IF there’s a presidential board appointed, there’s even longer-30 days for the board to report, then another 30 days for the cooling off period before “self help” aka a strike/job action can take place.

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