Union aviation workers picketed Wednesday outside Tulsa International Airport to raise awareness against the foreign outsourcing of aircraft maintenance work by American Airlines and other major carriers.
Members of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) held the rally.
The TWU-IAM Association represents about 30,000 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, American Airlines spokeswoman Linda Brock said.
“It’s negotiations, and everything has a value,” said Dale Danker, president of TWU Local 514. “But we don’t think they should put a value on safety. If you want more outsourcing, you are going to fly these airplanes to El Salvador and South America and China because that’s the cheapest bidder.”
American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines have been outsourcing jobs in the United States to low-cost foreign maintenance facilities, Danker said. He said work performed in the United States is safer because of Federal Aviation Administration oversight.
“Most folks don’t get their car worked on at the cheapest repair shop,” Danker said. “If you do and it breaks, blows a head gasket or something, you just pull over to the side of the road and go, ‘That sucks, I shouldn’t have taken it there.’
“But in an airplane, you just hope you get to be on the ground when something happens and not in the air.”
In current negotiations, American Airlines has made clear it intends to take more jobs out-of-country through attrition, he said.
“Here in Tulsa, our average age is 58 years old,” Danker said. “If a contract goes for five years, which we kind of already agreed upon, that puts most of our guys at 63 years old. If they continue to say that we’ll promise you a job in Tulsa but are not going to replace people if we don’t want to, then my big question mark is, are they going to move their maintenance program somewhere else?
“What does that mean for the Tulsa economy? … I took somebody’s place. I want somebody to take my place.”
IAM General Chair Sean Ryan traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina, to participate in Wednesday’s rally.
“We don’t want our jobs outsourced,” he said. “We don’t want inferior health insurance. All of our TWU and IAM members made sacrifices in bankruptcy to put this airline in the position it’s in today. We just want our fair share.”
American said Wednesday that it does more maintenance work in-house than any company in the industry, a trend that won’t change, Brock said.
“As it relates to heavy maintenance, the majority of this work is done in the U.S., with the only work being done outside the U.S. taking place in Central America with our trusted partner Aeroman, who also performs work for other U.S. carriers,” she wrote in an email. “The majority of the scheduled line maintenance work being done outside the U.S. is performed in South America by American Airlines team members, not contractors.
“The vast majority of them are FAA-A&P-licensed (aircraft and powerplant) AMTs (aircraft maintenance technicians), and those (who are) not are in the process of receiving their A&P licenses.”
Brock said all the work performed in AA’s South American maintenance facilities, as well as any other work that is outsourced, is subject to the same FAA regulations as maintenance performed in the United States.
“We remain committed to Tulsa and our maintenance base and have invested tens of millions in the facility since the merger,” she said. “We have recently in-sourced work to our Tulsa team like the CFM56-5B engine overhaul and plan to hire more mechanics for the base this year. We’re also adding 250 AMTs to our line maintenance operation system-wide, along with opening a new line maintenance station in Houston.”