American’s Battle With Mechanics Could Become the Most “Vicious Strike Action..the Likes of Which You’ve Never Seen”

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. AWW, the airline industry. . . the last hold out of power for unions or so they think. I look back at the NWA strikes in the early 2000’s and how they did nothing but slow down traffic for a few day. I think AA has the upper hand here, the era of union power is over. Union leaders are the biggest BS artist out there. If they try to strike, the Fed government will deem it illegal and they will be back to work. AA management knows this, they have the upper hand and rightfully so. Can’t wait to see these whiny ass leaders of the airlines unions fall.

  2. Makes me want to fly American again the greatest airline in the world with nicest CEO with happy workers and satisfied customers
    Did I mention an overly generous & rewarding program with the best saver redemption?
    With readily available immediate confirmed use of systemwides ?
    And award winning customer service
    And let’s not forget how well mechanics are treated and overly compensated
    Now let me grab my bucket of popcorn and watch the show begin 🙂
    Signed a former lowly Exec Plat

  3. Isom knows the NWA playbook. Hire the ops & tech ops folks that coordinated the plan when the idiots at AMFA blew themselves up. I was a Plat Elite before during & after the AMFA strike – impact was minimal. So…go for it AA. Let these clowns eliminate themselves.

  4. Gary, how much does SW just caving to their mechanics in a similar situation impact the AA situation? It seems to me that AA’s mechanics are not employing anywhere near the slowdown that SW’s mechanics did, but I am not familiar with the particulars of either situation and what conclusions can be drawn from SW to AA.

  5. Remember the old days. The union would want a 6% increase and the company would offer 4%. Two weeks later everyone would agree on a 5% increase with everything else unchanged. What changed? Corporate Greed!

  6. Sorry. If they are going to slowdiwn and delay passengers they get zero sympathy from me. Fire them all and disband union. Im sure there are plenty of other people out there who would do those jobs.

  7. @John – What old days of easy negotiations?

    The ‘old’ days were filled with strikes, slowdowns, sickouts. I don’t know whether that makes them worse or better – but they certainly weren’t more amicable days of labor / management relations.

    And that was even before the corporate raiders came on board in the 80s.

    Who remembers the ‘mutual aid’ pacts between airlines to honor passengers while another had a strike.

  8. There’s something obviously wrong with the number of PHL widebody cancellations/delays on Tuesday. The weather was good that day. As most folks who fly int’l know, massive delays are uncommon on int’l flights (unlike domestic flights, the aircraft are typically “in position” hours in advance).

    What surprises me is that this happened the day after AA sued the mechanics union for the illegal slowdown. Judges have levied severe penalties against airline unions for slowdowns (as they should). While horrible for pax, this data is extremely helpful to the airline’s legal case. The mechanics are playing with fire here.

  9. It’s PHILLY! They are the worst. The airport sucks and the employees at it suck too.

  10. I could only make it through a minute of the video. I can’t believe the mechanics would elect this bozo to be their leader.

  11. I’m flying to Venice with my family of 6 end of June. Checked BA alt flight no luck
    Hope they work this out jm

  12. @ Benjamin — Yes, in the “real world,” it seems astonishing that an individual like that would be elected as your leader. In the world of airline unions, it’s not surprising at all.


  14. One of the reasons for this so called “slowdown” is that the TWU mechanics are refusing overtime to get the work done.
    I’m sorry but, if your business plan relies on overtime to function then that plan is flawed.

  15. Many communities are in poverty level throughout the United States if we continue to allow corporate America’s greed we’re never going to have a great America we need to pay the workers decent salaries and stop the CEOs and board of directors with their million-dollar salaries and bonuses. Corporate America already stopped providing pensions to its employees meanwhile all of us in the private sector are paying for pensions of each and every government employee. Truly unfair

  16. AA: Hey Union, we wanna destroy your future, but you’ll all be safe for now; just your descendants will be screwed. Sign here.

    Union: Nah, in fact to show you how good we are we’re gonna do everything exactly by the book and double check it; safety first!


  17. Today, on their weekly new media letter,, they praised their mechanics. Olive branch?

  18. When AA and USair merged, which AA got the worst airline to merge with, USair management took over AA, and they have destroyed American Airlines in every way. American Airlines the best airline to fly, with one of the best Advantage Miles program in the business and many other perks that customers loved. USair management destroyed everything that would make the flying public to be a loyal customer. Now, a lot of those loyal customers have left or are thinking about going to other airlines. Very sad.

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