Last month I wrote that 7 simple steps would make American Airlines great again. One of those is to turn around the culture of unhappy employees, which means both rewarding the productive ones and shedding the poor performers who make life harder for all the workers around them whose slack they have to pick up.
American’s operational performance this summer has been poor. One contributing factor has been the ongoing contract dispute with its mechanics, which wound up in court as American accused their pilots unions of engaging in an illegal work slowdown meant to pressure the airline at the bargaining table.
The airline has had twice as many planes out of service than usual and has been cancelling an unprecedented number of flights.
It’s not year clear how well the temporary restraining order will do in convincing mechanics not to refuse overtime, slow walk paperwork, and discover problems with the aircraft as late as possible before a flight.
Courts are generally reluctant to wade into these sorts of disputes where there isn’t direct evidence of wrongdoing (the evidence here is mostly statistical and hearsay). That’s especially true in technical matters of safety. No court wants to discourage mechanics from reporting legitimate safety concerns. The FAA for its part wrote to American and its mechanics over concerns that the current dispute not spill over into its safety program.
It’s a minor point in the ongoing saga between American Airlines and its mechanics, but just how one-sided does the judge in the case between American and its mechanics think the argument is over a work slowdown? How convinced is he by the evidence American Airlines put on? And is it the evidence or the judge?
If you read the actual restraining order (.pdf) he signed instructing mechanics to cut out the slowdown, he literally took the proposed American Airlines restraining order as-is and signed it, striking out only the word ‘proposed’.
Litigants submit their desired orders to judges. In all but the most anodyne of circumstances they don’t expect the judge to literally give them exactly what they’re asking for.
The order requiring specific union leaders to conduct group meetings ‘in person’ on the overnight shift and communicate “a sincere and emphatic respect” for the requirements of the restraining order and an “imperative that every single mechanic and related employee fully and immediately comply with an unequivocal goal of restoring….operation to normal” is American’s language and the judge didn’t even edit it.
Requiring the union to post a video on a webpage, post to bulletin boards, having individuals sign and date acknowledgment forms with their intention to comply. Even the capitalization in the required memos to employees from union leaders has been specified by American and ordered by the court.
The Honorable John McBryde was appointed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas in 1990 by George H.W. Bush. He’s 88 years old and on senior status at the court. He’s been sanctioned by the Fifth Circuit for abusive conduct and he’s claimed that it’s unconstitutional for judges to reprimand him. This isn’t the judge I’d want if I were the unions representing mechanics at American Airlines.