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American Airlines Mechanics Are Threatening The “Bloodiest, Ugliest Battle” In Labor History

Published Wednesday, June 5, 2019
by Michael Arria/In These Times
American Airlines Mechanics Are Threatening The “Bloodiest, Ugliest Battle” In Labor History

(NEW YORK CITY) - Mechanics at American Airlines are threatening to Strike if a new contract isn’t negotiated and the Union President has declared that Employees are prepared for the dispute to erupt into “the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States Labor Movement ever saw.”

The statement came just one day after the airline sued its Union-represented Workers, claiming that they had engaged in an illegal work slowdown to strengthen their hand at the bargaining table.

American Airlines merged with US Airways in 2013 to become the largest airline in the world. The 31,000 Mechanics who fixed planes for both airlines had existing contracts, but the merger didn’t produce a joint contract.  American Airlines Mechanics had contracts with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and US Airways Mechanics had contracts with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

American Airlines has been trying to update the collective bargaining agreement with the TWU-IAM Association (a partnership between the two Unions that developed as a result of the merger), through contract talks since December 2015, with the National Mediations Board (NMB) serving as a Federal Mediator between the two sides - but talks were suspended in April after reaching an impasse.  

In addition to issues of pay and benefits, the Union is concerned that the company is potentially looking to outsource thousands of jobs.

In an e-mail to In These Times, Timothy Klima is an Airline Coordinator for the IAM who has been personally involved with the negotiations: “The Employees represented by the TWU-IAM Association want to preserve the work they do, the health care they have and to reach parity in benefits between the two pre-merger workgroups.  American Airlines demands to reduce the amount of work performed by their Employees and a corresponding headcount reduction, to eliminate the better health care choices the employees already have and refuses to improve the profit sharing formula that is one of the worst among their peers.  In short, the Employees desire to grow with a healthy American Airlines, but at least want to keep what they have coming into the merger.”

On May 20th, American Airlines filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas Federal Court claiming Mechanics purposely slowed down their work in an effort to hinder the company’s day-to-day operations.  According to the lawsuit, the Mechanics’ actions have resulted in 650 flight cancellations and more than 1,500 maintenance delays since February.

The Union denies that there was ever a purposeful slowdown.

“American Airlines should focus its time and effort to reach contractual agreements with its Employees instead of falsely accusing them of trumped-up job action charges,” Klima said. “Collective Bargaining Agreements cannot be reached in courtrooms, in the media or by lobbying politicians.  The TWU-IAM Association is eager to return to the bargaining table, which is the only arena where our contract disputes can be resolved.”

Vermont Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders also criticized the legal actiontweeting on May 21st: “Instead of recognizing and addressing the concerns of Workers, American Airlines has moved to sue @MachinistsUnion.  Machinists keep passengers safe and on time.  My message to American Airlines is simple: Stop the intimidation and bullying!”

On May 21st, during one of the airline’s regular Town Hall Meetings with Employees at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, TWU President John Samuelsen confronted American Airlines President Robert Isom and told him the Union was prepared to Strike.

“I stand here to tell you - in front of this whole room, in front of everybody, anybody who’s listening - that you’re not going to get what you want,” Samuelsen said. “If this erupts into the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States Labor Movement ever saw, that’s what’s going to happen.  You’re already profitable enough.”

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