A federal judge in Texas has told the union representing American Airlines mechanics that it can discipline or fine workers who fail to resume normal working schedules and practices.
Filed last week, the order from U.S. District Judge John McBryde came during a trial in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Fort Worth-based airline has sued the union, 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 obtained on June 14 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).
In the modifications to the TRO granted by McBryde, he said senior union leaders must communicate to workers that they must comply to the court order or face undetermined discipline or fines from the defendants.
“A slowdown is illegal,” Chris Thrutchley, an attorney who specializes in labor and employment law for GableGotwals in Tulsa, said in an email. “An employer can lawfully terminate union employees who engage in an illegal slowdown or the employer can take other forms of disciplinary action. Because AA won a TRO from the federal court in Fort Worth, it’s clear the judge felt AA had a strong case to justify the relief granted. Some might view fines as less harsh than outright termination.”
On Monday, the union asked the court to reconsider the TRO modifications, claiming, in part, that disciplining or fining union members risks conflicting with the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which guarantees union members certain due process rights in matters of internal union discipline, documents show.
“Defendants’ messages demanding TRO compliance have been clear, sincere, forceful, unequivocal and expansive,” union attorneys wrote in a motion to reconsider.
The legal fight has bearing on Tulsa, which is home to American Airlines’ largest maintenance base. Founded in 1946, Tech Ops-Tulsa handles aircraft overhaul and component and avionics repair, employing 5,200 people.
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 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.
Union workers have disputed American’s claims of a labor slowdown.
“As always, we are doing the best job we can to return planes on time and safely back to the airline for revenue,” Dale Danker, president of TWU Local 514 in Tulsa, said Monday. “As well, we are 100% complying with the court orders.”
American Airlines contends that in the three weeks since the court issued the TRO, the “slowdown” has resulted in about 592 additional maintenance-related flight cancellations that disrupted the plans of roughly 85,000 members of the traveling public. In documents filed in mid-June, the airline had placed the total number of disrupted travelers at 175,000.
In a recent court filing, the airline contends that mechanics at American’s Philadelphia line maintenance station engaged in an “overtime ban” from July 1 (the start of the trial) until July 7. On July 1, American sought five mechanics to work overtime on the first shift and of 162 qualified mechanics, not one agreed to work overtime, documents show.
The airline pointed out that during the same time last year, mechanics worked 658 hours of proffered overtime.
Labor officials 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 earlier this year.
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