American Airlines accuses its union workers of "illegal slowdown"

By Brian Pascus

/ CBS News

American Airlines is suing its union workers, accusing them of conducting an "illegal slowdown" in order to receive better concessions in ongoing contract talks. The airline is now asking a federal judge to step in with a preliminary injunction to end the alleged activity, which the union has called "unfounded."

On Monday, American Airlines filed its lawsuit in the United States District Court in Forth Worth, Texas against the Transport Works Union of American, AFL-CIO, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and Airline Mechanic and Related Employee Association.

American Airlines' lawsuit states, "In order to gain leverage in ongoing contract negotiations, the Union and its officers and members are engaged in the exact type of concerted behavior that courts have repeatedly held warrants an injunction to protect the traveling public." The airline referenced the Railway Labor Act, which "prohibits airlines employees from changing their normal behavior on a concerted basis in order to disrupt operations and obtain leverage in contract negotiations."

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American claims "the evidence, including expert statistical data and anecdotal evidence, leaves no doubt that the Union and its members are engaged in an illegal slowdown."

The lawsuit asserts that between February 4 and May 13, 2019, the union's alleged slowdown has caused 644 flight cancellations and more than 270 maintenance delays of two hours or longer, affecting the travel plans of more than 125,000 people.

American Airlines also alleges that mechanics have taken an "inordinately long time" to repair aircraft since February and they are en masse refusing to work overtime, specifically at the airline's hubs in Charlotte, Phoenix, and Philadelphia. The union has "expressly encouraged its members to engage in the illegal concerted behavior," including threatening and intimidating employees who have accepted overtime and field trips, the complaint alleges.

American Airlines has requested a preliminary injunction on an expedited basis that would put an end to the alleged illegal work slowdown. American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request to comment from CBS News.

A new American Airlines 737-800 aircraft featuring a new paint job with the company's new logo sits at a gate at O'Hare Airport on January 29, 2013, in Chicago, Illinois. Getty

International President John Samuelsen, who represents the Transport Workers Union, dismissed the merits of the lawsuit.

"Allegations of a slowdown are unfounded," he said. "This is an intimidation tactic by AA because the union is fighting back against their efforts to offshore thousands of solid blue collar Jet Mechanic jobs into South America. We will continue to battle AA to keep these jobs on USA soil and in doing so, ensure the safety of air travelers."

Samuelsen said American's push to move more maintenance work outside the U.S. could threaten 6,000 mechanics jobs, the Associated Press reported.

According to the lawsuit, American Airlines and its union have been engaged in negotiations for an updated collective bargaining agreement since December 2015. Negotiations have been tense, with the National Mediations Board, a federal mediator, having conducted 17 sessions between the two groups from October 2018 to April 2019.

American Airlines' lawsuit recalls the legal battle Southwest Airlines waged with its mechanics union earlier this year. In March, Southwest Airlines filed suit, accusing its mechanics union of "coordinating" to undermine the airline's business by writing improper safety assessments that have taken a large number of aircraft out of service. According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit was resolved when the two sides agreed on a contract that gave workers 20 percent pay increases and bonuses.

First published on May 21, 2019 / 9:56 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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