American Airlines Is Suing Union Workers Over Alleged “Illegal Slowdown” Of Operations

American Airlines has escalated their feud with unions representing their mechanics and has filed a lawsuit accusing them of coordinating an “illegal slowdown” of maintenance operations.

American alleges that there is a pattern of behavior proving the mechanics are sabotaging the company by taking extraordinarily long time to complete repairs and refusing to work overtime.

Such action of sabotage or slowdown is restricted under the Railway Labor Act which  prohibits airlines employees from changing their normal behavior in order to influence operations willingly in a negative way.

CBS News (see here) reported about the lawsuit filed in the U. S. District Court in Forth Worth, Texas.

American Airlines is suing its union workers, accusing them of conducting an “illegal slowdown” in order to receive better concessions in ongoing contract talks. The airline is now asking a federal judge to step in with a preliminary injunction to end the alleged activity, which the union has called “unfounded.”

On Monday, American Airlines filed its lawsuit in the United States District Court in Forth Worth, Texas against the Transport Works Union of American, AFL-CIO, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and Airline Mechanic and Related Employee Association.

American Airlines’ lawsuit states, “In order to gain leverage in ongoing contract negotiations, the Union and its officers and members are engaged in the exact type of concerted behavior that courts have repeatedly held warrants an injunction to protect the traveling public.” The airline referenced the Railway Labor Act, which “prohibits airlines employees from changing their normal behavior on a concerted basis in order to disrupt operations and obtain leverage in contract negotiations.”

American claims “the evidence, including expert statistical data and anecdotal evidence, leaves no doubt that the Union and its members are engaged in an illegal slowdown.” …

The lawsuit asserts that between February 4 and May 13, 2019, the union’s alleged slowdown has caused 644 flight cancellations and more than 270 maintenance delays of two hours or longer, affecting the travel plans of more than 125,000 people.

American Airlines also alleges that mechanics have taken an “inordinately long time” to repair aircraft since February and they are en masse refusing to work overtime, specifically at the airline’s hubs in Charlotte, Phoenix, and Philadelphia. The union has “expressly encouraged its members to engage in the illegal concerted behavior,” including threatening and intimidating employees who have accepted overtime and field trips, the complaint alleges.

American Airlines has requested a preliminary injunction on an expedited basis that would put an end to the alleged illegal work slowdown. …

According to the lawsuit, American Airlines and its union have been engaged in negotiations for an updated collective bargaining agreement since December 2015. Negotiations have been tense, with the National Mediations Board, a federal mediator, having conducted 17 sessions between the two groups from October 2018 to April 2019.

It’s relatively easy to use statistical data in order to prove an anomaly in a labor related field, especially one where steps are recorded meticulously. I wouldn’t totally exclude that American Airlines is actually right here and the workers are being encouraged by union bosses and militant colleagues to slow down the operations by doing their job “by the book” and not putting any extra effort in to finish their work expediently.

Under normal circumstances this would above above and beyond reproach but since airlines are regulated by a different set of rules (in this case the Railway Labor Act) there isn’t as much liberty for those individuals involved.

Conclusion

Court order yes or no, I’d like to see if the workers and union officials would actually follow an injunction given by the court and take up their normal speed and care of work again or if this continues.

It’s easy for essential staff to disable certain areas of flight operations and with airlines every human along the way is a piece of the puzzle without whom the carrier can’t operate. Pilots, Mechanics, Flight Attendants. If any group of them decide to throw a wrench in the motor then operations are immediately affected.

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