American Airlines Claims Mechanics Are Illegally Slowing Repairs

May 20, 2019, 10:23 PM UTC

American Airlines Group asked a federal court to halt an “illegal slowdown campaign” by unionized employees, saying the action had disrupted the travel plans of 125,000 passengers in the last three months.

Mechanics are taking too long to repair jetliners and refusing to work overtime in an effort to gain leverage in contract talks, American said in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Fort Worth, Texas. The alleged slowdown will crimp travel for 3,400 passengers a day if it continues into the summer, the airline said.

The lawsuit raises the stakes in a standoff after federal mediators suspended talks last month, saying they didn’t see a way to resolve differences between the two sides. The TWU-IAM Association, which represents 30,000 employees in 12 work groups, is the only major union at American that still lacks a complete contract following the carrier’s merger with US Airways in 2013.

American and the union haven’t been able to agree on issues including pay, health, and retirement benefits and limits on outsourcing work. The National Mediation Board is overseeing negotiations between the two sides and will determine the next steps, which could include moving closer to a possible strike.

The union didn’t immediately comment.

‘Inordinately Long’

American said its mechanics “en masse” were “taking an inordinately long time to repair aircraft.” The company also said employees refused overtime and maintenance trips, including weeks “with a 100% field trip refusal rate” at its Charlotte, Phoenix, and Philadelphia hubs.

The number of out-of-service aircraft at 7 a.m. each day rose to an average of 44 on May 13 from 36 on Feb. 4, the carrier said.

The union and the company had their 17th negotiating session with federal mediators on April 25, according to the filing.

American said mechanic productivity should be higher than normal due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max. American has 24 of the single-aisle planes, with another 16 scheduled for delivery this year. Regulators barred the plane from flying more than two months ago, following the second deadly crash in a five-month span.

“Based on the amount of maintenance that American’s 737 Max fleet would require on a daily basis, the grounding of these aircraft has freed up an estimated 180 man-hours on average of mechanics’ time per night to work on other aircraft,” American said. “As detailed in this complaint, however, mechanic productivity has significantly decreased.”