American Airlines Sues Unions, Accusing Workers of Slowdown

May 21, 2019 Updated: May 21, 2019

FORT WORTH, Texas—American Airlines is accusing its mechanics and their unions of conducting an illegal work slowdown to gain leverage in contract talks, and the airline is asking a federal judge to stop the activity.

The airline says mechanics have caused about 900 cancellations or long delays since early February by taking an unusually long time to repair planes and by refusing to work overtime.

On Monday, American filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Fort Worth against the Transport Workers Union and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which together represent American’s roughly 10,000 aircraft mechanics.

The president of the Transport Workers denied that workers are engaging in a slowdown.

“American Airlines is trying to punish us for doing exactly what we are supposed to do, which is ensure that there are safe aircraft in the air,” said John Samuelsen.

An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight
An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight from L.A., lands at Reagan National Airport shortly after an announcement was made by the FAA that the planes were being grounded by the United States over safety issues in Wash., on March 13, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The last bargaining session occurred in late April in front of a federal mediator. Samuelsen said talks were stalled over pay, health care benefits and job security.

Samuelsen said American is pushing to perform more maintenance work outside the United States, which he said could threaten the jobs of 6,000 mechanics. He said workers were willing to strike over the outsourcing plan. By federal law, airline workers can’t legally strike until a mediator declares an impasse in negotiations.

In its lawsuit, American said that it canceled 644 flights and delayed another 270 flights by at least two hours from Feb. 4 through May 13 because of unavailable planes, upsetting travel plans for 125,000 people.

The airline said the slowdown will affect 3,400 passengers a day if it continues into summer.

A sign at the Miami International Airport shows cancelled flights
A sign at the Miami International Airport shows canceled flights as American Airlines grounds it Boeing 737 Max 8 planes in Miami, Fla., on March 13, 2019. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

American said that until recently it never had a problem finding employees willing to work overtime.

The conflict is similar to one between Southwest Airlines and its mechanics, who are represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. The airline sued union officials over an alleged illegal slowdown in that case too.

The two sides made up, however, after agreeing on a contract that gave workers 20% pay raises and bonuses. Negotiations lasted more than six years.

United Airlines To Lay Off 100 In Houston, Outsource Jobs

HOUSTON—United Airlines says it will cut about 100 accounting jobs in Houston in July and shift the work to a contractor.

The airline reported the layoffs in a letter this week to the Texas Workforce Commission. It did not identify the contractor that will handle accounting of revenue from passengers.

United Airlines and United Express planes prepare to take off
United Airlines and United Express planes prepare to take off at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, on July 8, 2015. (David J. Phillip/AP/File)

A United spokeswoman said Friday the airline is providing job-search help. She says about 1,200 workers will remain in the downtown building to perform work in information technology, accounting, and government affairs.

United has about 12,000 employees in Houston, including workers based at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Chicago-based United is the nation’s third-biggest airline by revenue behind American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. It’s the result of a 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, which was based in Houston.

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