American’s dispute with its mechanics is getting increasingly heated. They still do not have post-merger contract combining US Airways and American mechanics, and they don’t appear anywhere close to a deal.
The airline wants to be able to do more outsourcing. They currently outsourc less than competitors United and Delta, having more employees per plane than competitors. (This is also one of the reasons that profit sharing payments to employees are lower, the denominator is higher.)
American promises current workers will keep their jobs and pay and work locations – and get raises – but the average age of mechanics is in the mid-50s and American wants to be able to shift work elsewhere over time. They also want lower health care costs, moving US Airways mechanics over to legacy American benefits.
A common refrain from American Airlines management is that they would happily sign either the Delta or United contract today, since they’re offering more than what is in either. The union though doesn’t want to give up future jobs. In a real sense this is a tradeoff between pay for the members they represent today and future union strength and bargaining power.
The Transportation Workers Union has posted a piece of video from Tuesday’s LaGuardia airport employee question and answer session with American’s President Robert Isom, where the union President goes off on an extended rant.
He declares that the situation may “erupt[..] into the bloodiest ugliest battle that the United States labor movement ever saw that’s what’s gonna happen” and suggests that “if we ever get to the point where there’s self-help we are gonna engage in absolutely vicious strike action against American Airlines the likes of which you’ve never seen.”
The union president here blusters a lot, it’s almost part of the job description. He has to signal strength to his members as much as to the company.
I’ve written for over six months that I believed mechanics were engaged in slowing down the airline’s operations. I’d heard this from all levels of the company since before last fall. American has taken its mechanics unions to court over this.
It seems unlikely that the airline’s operation will significantly improve until relations with mechanics improves. dkc192 on Flyertalk looked at some key routes on May 21,
5/21 AA169 LAX-NRT took a 6-hour trip to nowhere, returned to LAX due to MX; now delayed 17h to 0530 local tomorrow
5/22 AA170 NRT-LAX delayed 17h due to above shenanigans
5/21 AA127 DFW-PVG returned to gate and subsequently delayed 7.5h due to MX/crew availability
5/21 AA86 ORD-LHR delayed 2.5h due to MX
5/21 AA42 ORD-VCE delayed 1h and counting due to MX
5/21 AA754 PHL-CDG cancelled due to MX
5/22 AA755 CDG-PHL cancelled due to above MX (another costly one for AA…)
5/21 AA734 PHL-MAN delayed 1h and counting due to MX
5/21 AA758 PHL-ATH delayed 1.75h due to MX
5/21 AA718 PHL-FCO delayed 4h and counting due to MX
5/21 AA258 PHL-LIS delayed 1h and counting due to MX
American wants to lower its labor costs and perform work more efficiently (such as during long aircraft turns in South America) the way that United and Delta are able to. However in order for the airline’s mechanics to agree to this in a new contract there needs to be enough of a pay increase on the table that they begin asking their union leadership why they’re delaying more money in exchange for jobs for other people who aren’t even union members today?
Since the carrier gave employees a mid-cycle raise that means there’s less of a gap between current and future pay, and that makes a deal harder to do. American either needs to pay enough to get mechanics to agree to scope changes, or drop their demands for changes to scope.
Unions may want to get a deal done quickly, though, before the economy turns. If the airline industry’s performance begins to decline there’ll be less money on the table — but expectations of their membership won’t adjust as quickly. Those mismatched expectations are often what lead to frustrating strikes.