The Actual Order a Judge Signed Against American Airlines Mechanics is Shocking in One Specific Way

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.

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. Gary, did I read this correctly–that overtime is mandatory? That seems…illegal. Why doesn’t AA hire more mechanics?

  2. Not uncommon. I’ve repeatedly had judges sign Proposed Orders with few, if any changes, with more that one saying, ” I couldn’t have written it better myself.”

  3. I’m kind of amused at the number of people who think that overtime is illegal. It’s never been illegal for companies to force overtime, they merely have to pay 1.5x when they do. This is actually quite common in manufacturing and other industries. I’m not saying its right, but it is pretty standard.

  4. So “the world” (aka Gary Leff) is shocked that AA found a federal judge who is actually enforcing the provisions of the Railway Labor Act. Several weeks ago, I pointed out a very valuable blog post by middleagemiles (a Dallas lawyer) who gave a terrific overview of Judge McBryde’s no-nonsense courtroom style and also provided a great overview of what was going on in these legal proceedings. Based on this analysis, I predicted the mechanics slowdown would cease because McBryde would not tolerate this clear violation of the RLA. That is EXACTLY what has happened. McBryde is refusing to tolerate any BS. The RLA says a work slowdown is illegal and if you do it, you’ll face serious legal consequences. “Amazingly,” this approach has effectively ended the slowdown. Yesterday, for example, AA ran almost as good an operation as Delta. As long as the weather holds at DFW, this should continue this summer. I’m guessing it will be a few weeks before you right about this!

  5. Not shocking. Judges sign the order written by the side they find is correct all the time.

    I will also caution that, in interpreting what a court decided, if you weren’t in the room, you don’t really know what is going on. All sorts of things can transpire in the court that leads a judge to do a particular thing.

  6. The time will show. Flightaware has
    and 5 top hubs with delays right now in descending order are
    safe travel!

  7. I still can’t believe that American Airlines has to take it’s own employees to court. The days of concessionary contacts should be over. This dispute (after 5 years) should be settled at the negotiation table not the court room!

  8. Hi Gary. It is far more commonplace than you’d expect for a judge to simply sign the proposed order of the prevailing party, simply striking the word “proposed.” This happens to me with both the [proposed] orders I submit when filing motions as well as – even more often – with [proposed] orders I submit after oral argument and at the Court’s direction.

    As to federal judges acting a certain way, it reminds me of a joke: What’s the biggest difference between G-d and a Federal Judge? G-d doesn’t think that he is a federal judge.

  9. @MikeP: I had no idea forced overtime was legal. It seems counterproductive in the long term, as an employer can force an employee to work 15, 16, hours a day. Over time that employee is going to make more mistakes than a well-rested, alert employee who is working 40 hours. Countless studies have shown that beyond a certain number of hours, failure rate increases exponentially. I cannot wrap my head around this–look at Germany (overtime illegal) and the northern European countries: fewer hours, better productivity.

  10. Our hats should be off for this federal judge. He was convinced by the facts before him of the unlawful partial work stoppages the mechanics had been engaging in for months. He properly accepted the strongly worded order written by AA’s lawyers to make as sure as possible that this pattern of misconduct would end, and made it his own. Why anyone should be surprised by this escapes me. Bravo for this judge.

  11. The conduct of the union was so outrageous the judge had no choice but to give American Airlines management everything it wanted. Thankfully this is a time when judges act with reason unlike most of the time.

  12. In my younger days, our union contract allowed the company to mandate overtime. They would go through the seniority list offering overtime and if they did not get volunteers, they could force people to work starting from the most junior person and back up the line. Agreed to in the contract so perfectly legal.

  13. @KimmieA Must be nice at your work. (union job?) But here in the real world we do not work 9-5 with an hour lunch and 2 15 min breaks, with family health insurance and 4 weeks of paid vacation. Many of us have to get our work done and stay late due to Princess clients who demand everything and then complain about the bills. We have dead lines that we have to meet, just because the Dancing with the Stars Finale is on does not mean we can stop working. There are some employees who own the work that they do and then there are those who are “floaters” who just keep their life preservers on to they do not drown. There are also those who claim “that is beyond my paid grade” which really means… “I am a lazy tired employee who hates their job”

  14. Gee, @dillonyork, sounds like you need a better job. In the real, real world, most of us have to get our work done and meet deadlines and deal with demanding customers. Even those of us with union jobs.

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