Workers at American Airlines’ Tulsa Maintenance Base will be monitoring closely what transpires next week in a federal courtroom in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Fort Worth-based airline has sued the union representing its mechanics, alleging that “in order to gain leverage in ongoing contract negotiations” it has orchestrated a work slowdown that has resulted in hundreds of flight cancellations.
American Airlines has obtained a temporary restraining order, barring the alleged illegal behavior, against the defendant, the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). The trial is scheduled to start Monday in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth.
TWU-IAM Association represents about 31,000 American employees, mostly mechanics and fleet service workers. Since the late 2015 merger of American, which had TWU contracts, and US Airways, which had IAM contracts, joint contracts have not been negotiated.
American Airlines’ largest maintenance base is in Tulsa. Founded in 1946, Tech Ops-Tulsa handles aircraft overhaul and component and avionics repair, employing 5,200 people.
Union officials have disputed the airline’s claims. Citing the litigation, Dale Danker, president of TWU Local 514 in Tulsa, declined to comment Friday.
The carrier claims that between Feb. 4 and May 13, the union’s campaign caused about 644 flight cancellations and more than 270 maintenance delays of at least two hours, interrupting the travel plans of 125,000 people, according to court documents filed May 20. In other documents filed in mid-June, the airline pushed the total number of disrupted travelers to 175,000.
American Airlines contends that mechanics in large numbers are taking an inordinately long time to repair aircraft, resulting in a dramatic increase in outstanding maintenance write-ups and contributing to a spike in aircraft out of service. The airline placed the odds of this being random as opposed to concerted activity at less that “one-in-one-billion,” court documents show.
Contract negotiations broke off in April.
“It is unfortunate that American Airlines has chosen to abandon negotiating with its employees and instead go straight to federal court,” the union said in a statement following the airline’s initial court filing. “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.”
American currently outsources about a third of its maintenance jobs, the lowest among the five major airlines. The other four outsource 43% to 52%, according to a TWU survey.
Labor officials also are concerned about proposed job losses through attrition and buyouts, 2,200 of which would involve heavy maintenance workers at facilities in Dallas, Tulsa and Charlotte, North Carolina, Joe Tiberi, IAM spokesman, said recently.
American Airlines spokesman Joshua Freed declined to address Tiberi’s numbers but added Friday that “our proposal has station and job protection for everybody who’s on the seniority list on the day of signing. That is as blunt and simple as it sounds.
“… Knowing what I know about our offer, it must be attribution because everybody’s going to have a job. The number of that would lose their jobs under our proposal is zero.”
Tulsa City Councilors offered a forum recently on the Equality Indicators report, which uses 54 equality measures that compare outcomes of groups likely to experience inequalities.