Travel2020: Summer travel at airports may be heading for slowdowns, showdowns
Tuesday, June 04, 2019
It may be the summer of love in some parts of the country, but it could also be the summer of slowdowns as well, especially for passengers flying on American Airlines or anyone trying to snake through U.S. airport security lines.
American is in a standoff with its mechanics union, waging accusations of staging slowdowns in the midst of contract talks happening between the two entities.
American Airlines filed a lawsuit in May at a United States District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, against the Transport Workers Union of America; AFL-CIO; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; and Airline Mechanic and Related Employee Association.
The document, American Airlines Inc. v. Transport Workers Union of America, 4:19-cv-00414-A. U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth), claims that between February and May of this year, the union's actions caused 644 flight cancellations and more than 270 maintenance delays of two hours or more, affecting the travel plans of more than 125,000 people.
The filing 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 document pointed to precedent in 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."
The union is viewing the lawsuit as an intimidation tactic and claims it is trying to protect jobs while the airline offshores work to mechanics shops outside the U.S.
"Allegations of a slowdown are unfounded," Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen told the Associated Press. "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."
Image: American Airlines
The TWU-IAM Association issued a rebuttal to American Airlines’ request for an injunction against the Association:
"It is unfortunate that American Airlines has chosen to abandon negotiating with its employees and instead go straight to federal court. The airline is frustrated with the Association for refusing to allow more of our maintenance and repair work to be outsourced to South America, China and Europe. We are also standing strong against cuts to our medical benefits and retirement security. Our members value American Airlines fliers and work hard every day to ensure they have the best experience possible. The Association is ready and willing to get back to the bargaining table at any time and negotiate a fair joint collective bargaining agreement, but to do so would take a willing partner. We would much prefer to be at the negotiating table than in a legal battle brought on by American."
American Airlines and its union have been engaged in negotiations to update a collective bargaining agreement since December 2015.
Southwest Airlines Corporation recently settled a similar dispute earlier this year. The carrier asked a federal court to step in and halt similar behavior by airline mechanics and their union that resorted to reporting excessive maintenance issues and grounding a large number of aircraft.
The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association claimed the lawsuit would prevent workers from reporting aircraft damage. Following a warning from the FAA admonishing both sides for putting the carrier’s safety at risk, Southwest and the union reached an agreement and were able to move forward in March.
Meanwhile, as the Trump administration moves manpower to the southern border, U.S. flyers stand to see slowdowns at TSA checkpoints as they try to catch their flights.
Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, has joined five other aviation and travel industry associations in a letter urging Senate leaders to support a request for supplemental appropriations to support officer staffing and overtime for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including for operations at the nation’s airports.
As the White House seeks $4.5 billion for border operations in the southwest, the CBP is deploying an additional 186 of its officers to assist Border Patrol agents in these sectors. The additional manpower comes from Northern border ports, seaports, and airports, according to a CBP spokesperson.
"While understandable, a robbing Peter to pay Paul staffing paradigm is unsustainable. The traveling and shipping public should not be subjected to excessive wait times, and we need to avoid inflicting damage on commerce and the overall U.S. economy," the A4A letter said.
A report by Reuters pointed to Senate legislation backed by major U.S. airports and other business, industry and union groups earlier this year urging the hiring of at least 600 new CBP agents annually.
"Without emergency funding, we are very concerned that CBP's budget is not adequate going into the busy summer travel season, starting with the Memorial Day weekend holiday rapidly approaching. CBP staffing levels already fall well short of the agency's workload staffing model. With international travel increasing at a steady rate, lack of sufficient CBP officer staffing at airports due to temporary reassignment, compounded with lack of overtime funding, will certainly put considerable strain on CBP ports, harming both passengers and cargo throughput," the letter stated.
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