American Airlines won a major courtroom victory over its unionized mechanics Monday when a judge ruled workers intentionally caused flight delays in their ongoing battle for a new contract.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles McBryde issued a permanent injunction against workers under the Transport Workers Union and the International Association of Machinists that will give stricter oversight until the 30,000 employees are able to agree to a deal with the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline.
“(American Airlines) has shown that defendants’ members conducted a concerted slowdown,” McBryde wrote in the ruling. He also said the unions failed to “take every reasonable action to prevent or stop it.”
McBryde’s injunction requires the unions to do everything they can to tell mechanics that a slowdown is illegal, including the possibility of fining its own members.
American Airlines sued in May, accusing the unions of telling members to refuse overtime, turn down off-work assignments and otherwise slow down maintenance to penalize the carrier. The airline argued that the slowdown resulted in delayed and canceled flights for passengers.
The two sides have been working on a new joint contract since 2015 following the merger between American Airlines and U.S. Airways in 2013.
American Airlines declined to comment on the ruling and the unions did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling also orders the unions to require members to sign a form saying they’ll comply with the injunction or face discipline and fines.
It is illegal under the Railway Labor Act for airline employees to go on strike without following a complicated set of rules under federal oversight. Even lesser forms of protest, such as widespread efforts to turn down overtime, are against federal rules, McBryde said.
American Airlines presented a complex statistical argument to show that maintenance workers were taking longer to repair planes, as well as turning down requests for extra work. The carrier said because more planes were not ready after overnight work, as many as 11,000 passengers a day experienced delays and cancellations.
Even after the judge issued a restraining order in June to stop the slowdowns, American argued that productivity was still below historical norms.
It’s difficult to enforce on an individual level because overtime and off-site work assignments aren’t required. Neither American or the unions pinpointed individuals that they suspected were intentionally slowing down work.
The TWU and IAM unions argued that they did everything they could to convince members to get back to work, including face-to-face meetings with local leaders, video messages, signs in cafeterias and emails. The unions said its members lacked motivation after years of fruitless contract negotiations.
McBryde wasn’t convinced and ordered a stricter restraining order in July that requires fines and discipline if workers don’t stop the effort to slow down work.
In the end, American’s statistical argument was proof, he wrote, that mechanics were intentionally causing delays.
“Accepting defendants’ arguments to the contrary would require the court to ignore the evidence and abandon common sense,” McBryde said in Monday’s ruling.
His order also requires mechanics to return productivity levels for overnight work to 2018 levels before the problems began.
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