American Wins Court Battle Against Mechanics

Filed Under: American, Unions

American Airlines has been having huge problems with their mechanics for quite a while.

What’s going on with American’s mechanics?

Following the merger between American and US Airways, mechanics still don’t have a single contract, as management and the unions haven’t been able to come to an agreement.

Essentially, American’s mechanics union is saying that the airline is profitable enough. They don’t want a competitive contract, but rather they want an industry leading contract.

The head of TWU-IAM has made some bold threats towards management, promising:

  • “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”

American’s lawsuit against mechanics

In late May American Airlines filed a lawsuit against TWU-IAM. This is because management claimed that the mechanics were intentionally slowing down flights and causing operational problems, pointing out that the chances of this being random rather than intentional are less than one in a billion.

In mid-June, a temporary restraining order was issued by a Texas judge, urging mechanics to not cause intentional disruptions. Of course this was not quite as useful as management had hoped, given that mechanics denied they were doing this in the first place.

Well, this court case has now concluded.

American wins case over mechanics

On Monday a US federal court issued a permanent injunction against American’s mechanics union. This made permanent a previous order against TWU-IAM.

With this ruling, employees are prohibited from “calling, permitting, instigating, authorizing, encouraging, participating in, approving, or continuing any form of disruption to or interference with American’s airline operations.”

The judge presiding over the case wrote the following in the ruling, per Dallas News:

“[American Airlines] has shown that defendants’ members conducted a concerted slowdown,” McBryde wrote in the ruling. He also said the unions failed to “take every reasonable action to prevent or stop it.”

McBryde’s injunction requires the unions to do everything they can to tell mechanics that a slowdown is illegal, including the possibility of fining its own members.

Not surprisingly, the head of the TWU (the same person who made the threats above) said that they will fully abide by the permanent inunction:

“We will continue to comply with the court’s directive. We will also continue to bargain to win a contract that protects our members’ solid jobs on USA soil.”

Of course he claims they have been complying with this all along, which is questionable, to put it mildly.

What are the implications of this decision?

With this court ruling complete, now what?
  • Management and the mechanics union still don’t have a new contract, so that battle isn’t over yet
  • Mechanics have denied any sort of industrial action occurring, though the union could start to face fines if this continues; that doesn’t necessarily mean it will stop, though

At this point I’d say the union may have somewhat overplayed their hand, and management is in the driver’s seat. Hopefully they can come to an agreement. Maybe American can give a little bit so that the union feels like they won, and they can drop any lawsuit against them in exchange for a contract being finalized.

I guess we’ll see how this plays out, because at this point it’s tough for the head of the TWU to save face, given what he has said…

  1. Are these the same people who tighten the bolts of the plane I’m flying on? Well alrighty then!

  2. Personally I support unions but they’ve clearly overplayed their hand in this one. AA is not going to negotiate an industry leading contract. The best the union can hope for is a contract that is on par with UA, WN, and whatever basket of goodies DL gives their mechanics to keep the union out. As NW proved years ago, an airline can survive a mechanics strike. It’s better to just settle and get everyone under a single contract and live to fight another day.

  3. Has ANYONE pointed out that the scheduled maintenance (ie. “A Checks” and “B Checks”) that AA Mechanics used to do on a regular basis has changed to America West/US Air “Phase Checks” and are not being maintained as well as the planes used to? The delays and MEL list has inflated in conjunction with their Maintenance Program changes. It’s a wonder why the planes aren’t taking more delays! How ’bout checking out that story?!!

  4. If the head of the mechanics union isn’t punished for every single violation, I don’t see change coming. So my guess is nothing will change since there is no punishment. Lol. Back to delays….

  5. This is just one of the steps that the company takes to decrease what it saw as illegal moves taken by the union that the union was using to increase its leverage. If the union continues its behavior, the next step is to seek to hold the union, its leaders, and some members in contempt for violating the injunction. If they are held in contempt, the court could fine the union (likely), require the union to pay damages to the company (most likely), and even jail individuals (least likely).

    If history is any guide, the shenanigans will continue. The union will be held in contempt. And they will be ordered to pay the company tens of millions of dollars. The union thinks that it will be negotiated away when the contract is finally agreed to. That’s likely but that gives the company another bargaining chip.

  6. “Essentially, American’s mechanics union is saying that the airline is profitable enough. They don’t want a competitive contract, but rather they want an industry leading contract.”

    After years of being shafted by AA’s management – remember Crandall and how he left with that massive golden handshake after getting pay concessions from the unions? – the mechanics have simply had enough. Add in AA wanting to move a lot of heavy maintenance to Latin America and China in the name of cost cutting and the AA mechanics are rightfully upset. And yes, given the huge profits that AA is raking in, maybe its about time the mechanics did score an industry leading contract.

    Fair disclosure, I’m in an industry where we’ve continued to produce major results despite 11% pay cuts and freezes to the salary scale. We also think that after a decade of nickel and diming that its about time for a significant pay hike. I can easily relate to how the mechanics are feeling. Were AA not profitable, I wouldn’t be so far on their side, but AA is profitable – very profitable. They can afford to give back after years of labor concessions and management glad handing and golden parachutes.

  7. @Kevin – the Union Head should be removed or fired outright for embarrassing the mechanics and possibly losing any leverage they could have had.

    It’s one thing to try and sway public (and fliers’) opinions in your favor. It’s a disaster to condone slowdowns, anger customers and then get a Federal injunction placed on your organization and compromise any contract discussions with AA management (who don’t make the best decisions themselves).

    This guy was an idiot who thought he was on a shipyard and got his rear handed to him. I wonder if Union members can sue their own Union?

  8. Let me add “allegedly” to every sentence I wrote in my previous comment. I’m clearly not a lawyer and have no clue how to type.

    Thank you.

  9. This dispute should be settled at the negation table not in the court room. Why must a employer sue their own employees!

  10. This is far from over. They play nice on the outside, but the delays will continue. He hardly got his “rear handed to him”. This is just ensured the battle got longer and uglier.

  11. Judge McBryde is no one to be trifled with — ask any lawyer in the DFW area.

    I recall back in the late 90’s the AA pilots union found themselves in violation of an injunction issued by Judge Kendall. The fine was $46,000,000.

  12. So what’s stopping the union from calling a strike vote? Negotiations have obviously fallen apart, work to rule is no longer an option and I doubt a private company’s employees are considered essential personnel under federal law, so why not set a firm strike date, but continue to bargain in the meantime and work in good faith toward an equitable settlement?

    If I were a boss at that union I’d tell the shop stewards and senior members to go back to work as usual, with no sickouts, slowdowns or other tactics. I’d then restart negotiations, but make it crystal clear that if there’s no deal in place by 23:59 on Tuesday, Nov. 26th then that’s it. Every AA mechanic worldwide is on the picket lines, and won’t consider returning to the bargaining table until the following Tuesday. If AA’s beancounters can’t come up with a fair proposal in 14 weeks they deserve what they’re in for.

  13. The court should force both of them into binding arbitration to settle this.

    We were delayed for 2 hours on Friday for 2 mechanical reasons. Exec Platinums were getting up and getting off the plane and asking to be put on alternate flights. It wrecked my plans for the day and I will be avoiding AA until this is resolved. This public fight/conversation and the customer disruptions does neither the mechanics, their unions or AA any good.

  14. Sounds like a pyrrhic victory.

    AA is an operational hot mess this summer. I don’t expect improvements until the reach and agreement.

  15. Regardless of past history of mechanics supposedly getting shafted by Crandall, how much do mechanics make now with benefits? Probably very well is my guess so why is the union pressing for an industry leading contract? Being on par isn’t good enough? I doubt the union members are happy with the amount of their dues being spent on legal fees nor AA for that matter. As too often happens in these disputes, it’s we the customers who are getting shafted. As ugly as this is, I guess we should be glad we don’t deal with transportation strikes in Europe.

  16. NJRadioGuy, what you propose is prohibited by the Railway Labor Act, the law that applies to airline unions. They can’t strike until essentially permitted to do so by the National Mediation Board and that, realistically, is at least a year and probably more away. Even then, the President can stop the strike as President Clinton did for an American pilots’ strike in the 1990s.

    Bottom line: different rules apply than what you are used to.

  17. I was on a short 50 min flight MIA:MCO this AM delayed for almost an hour because the hadn’t put in the correct amount of fuel in the plane for this first flight of the day. No apologies for the screw up from the captain or any sense of urgency of the crew on this 100% full flight with 48 passengers connecting to PHI, LAX, ORD, and CLT. This one flight was reminder enough why 99% of my domestic flights are planned on Delta. They’re not perfect, but they care which AA can’t seem to get their employees to do regardless of position or union.

  18. Bob, you are right. Airlines in America are absolutely crushing it: their profit margin is almost double digits on average…but not quite. In fact: their margins are about the same as McDonalds.

    Unions served a massive purpose when lives were in danger and workers were dying in mines, mills, and being exploited during a depression.

    Let the free market decide what’s fair. If Delta pays better, great, then go to Delta. If American is subpar, they will lose employees or delays will necessitate more competent employees with higher pay and more experience.

  19. I’m a mechanic for a major US airline and from our perspective we are all in for the American Union. It is inaccurate to push this as if it is primarily about money. IT IS NOT it’s about outsourcing. We as mechanics are sick and tired of them moving our work to places with less regulation and safety. I personally have had to remove a plane from service for days do to incorrectly performed maintenance in a central American country. They are putting your safety behind profits and us mechanics are fighting back. I strongly support American mechanics efforts to ensure the safety of you the flying public. This is being swept under the rug along with the shortage of mechanics that is starting to hit.

  20. It amazes me the amount of Americans that are willing to throw other Americans out of a job in support of a dirty playing management team, that has NOT bargained in good faith all along!
    The facts about this whole mess lies straight on the shoulders of Americans management team!
    Around the time these said delays and cancellations took place Management enacted a “new business plan” for the ground handling part of the operations. The only goal was to make more work for less people, by increasing flights, how things are done, and using substandard equipment! Throw into the mix of thunderstorms at least 2 times a week shutting operations down, through the month of June and July, and poor planning and there you will find the majority of the why’s and how’s of it! AA management is only using the mechanics as a reason to blame for all this mess. And thanks to a Corporate friendly court system in Texas they got their way. Where as any other court it would have been laughed right out of!
    But thanks to all the selfish people willing to jump on the employees like a pack of blood thirsty wolves thousands of Americans will lose decent paying jobs that are in their 50’s and 60’s……with half a pension to live off of! And for what reason? Simply more money for the executives is all…..
    What is disgusting is this large Corporation can run crying to an already slanted court system with lackluster evidence, all the while not even bothering to half negotiate in any good faith, knowing full well they were suppressing their employees from wages and benefits for years while they enjoyed billions in profits and bonuses, but the court system and bargaining system does not allow the employees any means of a lawsuit or are allowed to even show any displeasure of this! I just hope the ones who support this company can sleep well knowing that if you have any children, your helping to give them a life of indentured slavery for the future!

  21. Bob, here is my point. Why are auto workers or mechanics unions any different than other industries? I work at a big computer company. Theyremoved pensions 20 years ago because they weren’t competitive and sustainable long term.

    The company I work for is global, and probably half of the employees exist outside of the USA. One reason is simply out of labor necessity, and the other is that it is cheaper to hire an employee in India or China. In fact, 15 years ago they could hire 4 to 1. Now it’s closer to 2 to 1. Many times the work assigned overseas is something minor or straightforward. Think brake job, seat belt repair, greasing up a bearing. Then more complicated and leading edge critical stuff is handled here. Keep in mind both overseas and in the USA are staffed by people with a minimum 4 year degree, many with further education in computer/electrical/software engineering.

    A lot of folks cry “woe is me. Think about the children and pensions.” The reality is that unions have created a cozy cacoon of benefits and entitlements that are completely frictional with global work forces, and they don’t want to admit that their break jobs and seat belt repairs can be handled over seas for 1/3rd the cost.

    Having said that: I completely understand your point about safety. Imagine the blow back if airlines start suffering serious issues due to shoddy work from someone else overseas. Or if they end up spending twice as much money hanging to redo work or correct bad repairs and maintenance. That will come through on the balance sheet and they’ll be more judicious in who does what.

  22. Bob, negotiations aside, mechanics were (and probably still are) intentionally writing up maintenance issues that were false to cause a disruption to American Airlines operations. That may have been in conjunction with thunderstorms. However, they can easily prove the increase in maintenance related issues month over month vs weather related delays. I believe they found the likelihood to be something like 1 in a million or 1 in a billion in regards to # of issues suddenly found with planes during these negotiations.

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