American Airlines is suing the unions representing most of its mechanics, alleging that union officers and members have engaged in a deliberate work slowdown to gain leverage during ongoing contract negotiations.
The lawsuit filed May 21 against the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) alleges the slowdown has caused 644 flight cancellations and more than 270 maintenance delays of two hours or more between February 4 and May 13.
Lawyers for American wrote in their complaint that mechanics have escalated their campaign in recent weeks, resulting in a “dramatic increase” in outstanding maintenance write-ups and contributing to a sharp rise in the number of out-of-service aircraft for the Dallas/Fort Worth-based carrier.
They said the odds of this slowdown being random – as opposed to the result of a concerted campaign – are “less than one-in-one billion,” adding that mechanics are “refusing en masse” to work overtime or take maintenance field trips to repair aircraft.
The company said it has never had an issue staffing overtime or field trips before, given the high pay rates associated with those activities. However, since the unions began their alleged campaign, American reports there have been periods with no overtime shifts worked at its hub in Phoenix, and there have “regularly been weeks with a 100% field trip refusal rate” at its hubs in Charlotte, Phoenix and Philadelphia.
The carrier also alleged that union leadership has directly orchestrated the slowdown in a top-down fashion, going as far as threatening and intimidating employees who have accepted overtime and field trips, stating they expect “100% participation” and warning that workers who fail to comply are “going on the list.”
A spokesman for American declined to comment on the lawsuit, referring instead to the contents of the complaint.
TWU international president John Samuelson told Aviation Week that there is “no concerted effort” by union leadership to slow down work, adding that “what may very well exist is an extremely low level of worker morale brought on by American Airlines themselves.”
He said management is trying to intimidate mechanics during ongoing negotiations for a new contract, and workers are upset with the company’s plan to send thousands of US jet mechanic jobs to South America.
“Right now, there is a massive space between the company and the unions, which is mainly occupied by their desire – despite the fact that they’re rolling in the dough – to outsource fleet-side work to people making minimum wage and offshore our jet mechanic jobs,” said Samuelson.
A spokesperson from the IAM didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.