American Airlines Files Lawsuit Against Its Mechanics, Accusing Them of 1,500 Flight Delays

May 22, 2019

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American Airlines filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday seeking an injunction against its mechanics’ unions. The court filing accuses the mechanics in the airline’s two mechanics’ unions, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and Transport Workers Union (TWU), of intentionally slowing down work to delay American’s operations.

“Unfortunately, the union has chosen to illegally gain leverage in contract negotiations by directing a coordinated and deliberate illegal slowdown focused on the maintenance operation,” the airline said in an internal letter to its employees regarding the injunction, according to One Mile at a Time.

The carrier says the maintenance teams’ actions have caused 650 flight cancellations and more than 1,500 maintenance delays, affecting about 125,000 American Airlines passengers since February. These flight interruptions coincide with the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX jet. American has taken its 24 MAX jets off its schedule through Aug. 19, which will affect 115 flights per day through the summer.

“It is astonishing to me that it has gotten to this point,” Helane Becker, an airline analyst with the firm Cowen, told TPG in an email, noting the two unions have been at odds since American bought US Airways in 2013. “The unions themselves can’t agree. The ex-US Airways employees are worried about health care while the ex-AA employees are worried about jobs and whether management would outsource them. In our view, American’s fleet is too big to outsource all the maintenance. They have one of the largest maintenance centers in the US industry in Tulsa OK.”

Southwest Airlines faced a similar situation earlier this year, a dispute with its mechanics that arose around the same time that the MAX was grounded by the FAA. The carrier said due to those two factors, it had 9,400 flight cancellations and lost $150 million.

At American, the mechanics groups denounced American’s legal action.

“It is unfortunate that American Airlines has chosen to abandon negotiating with its employees and instead go straight to federal court,” the two unions said in a joint statement. “The airline is frustrated with the Association for refusing to allow more of our maintenance and repair work to be outsourced to South America, China and Europe. We are also standing strong against cuts to our medical benefits and retirement security. Our members value American Airlines fliers and work hard every day to ensure they have the best experience possible.

“The Association is ready and willing to get back to the bargaining table at any time and negotiate a fair joint collective bargaining agreement, but to do so would take a willing partner. We would much prefer to be at the negotiating table than in a legal battle brought on by American.”

Robert Isom, president of American, called the mechanics’ behavior an “illegal work action” on Tuesday. “Since the beginning of the year, there’s been significant actions to slowdown the airline,” Isom said at the Wolfe Research Annual Global Transportation Conference on Tuesday, according to Flight Global.

Another union group came to the defense of the mechanics groups at American.

“Despite the constant problems that have left it ranked last among the major airlines, American Airlines continues to scapegoat and attack its hardworking unionized workforce,” Lori Bassani, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants that represents about 25,000 American Airlines flight attendants, said in a statement on Wednesday. “This unnecessarily aggressive litigious attack on its workers is only the latest example of the lack of respect the airline has shown its longtime, dedicated employees.”

Fortunately for flyers, it doesn’t seem that the slow down will affect travel during the busy upcoming holiday weekend. That’s good news for the 3.25 million passengers that AAA predicts will take a plane trip during Memorial Day Weekend.

“We don’t think it will be an issue for this weekend precisely because of the impending injunction,” Becker said. “In the end, if these two groups can’t agree, we believe it leaves the door open for another union to petition to represent the employees, or alternatively, it is possible the employees will vote the unions out,” she said, noting that’s exactly what Northwest’s mechanics did when Delta bought that airline in 2008.

Featured photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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