American Airlines, workers union seek federal mediation on wage dispute

Tuesday, December 16, 2008, 18:56 by Aviation Correspondent

American Airlines, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, the United States, and the Transport Workers Union of America, the union representing thousands of ground workers, have jointly requested the services of a mediator through the National Mediation Board to resolve issues regarding wage and benefit that have remained undecided after 11 days of negotiations.

Neither side said specifically why the talks broke down.

The union has been demanding restoration of the wages and benefits its members had before making concessions in 2003 when American Airlines narrowly missed bankruptcy.

The contact signed between American Airlines and the union became amendable on May 1, 2008. Under US federal labour law, airline contracts do not expire.

John Conley, Air Transport Division’s director Transport Workers Union of America was quoted by the website dallasnews.com as saying: “American Airlines did not seem very serious about getting an agreement. Union negotiators neither ignored the competitive realities that American faces nor ignored the economic fragility of the current environment. We gave them our equivalent of a red tag sale.”

“This was a great opportunity for the company to award workers who have sacrificed and to lock in a labour agreement that was both fair and affordable,” Conley added. “Next year, if industry analysts are correct in their predictions and profits rise, the price of jet fuel stays low, competition is thin and ticket prices are stable, you can bet the cost of a settlement will be greater.”

The Transport Workers Union of America said in a statement that the National Mediation Board, the independent agency of the United States government that coordinates labour-management relations within the US railroad and airline industries, “would likely assign a mediator before the end of 2008.”

Tami McLallen, spokesperson for American Airlines, was quoted by the media as remarking on the breakdown of the negotiations: “We do regret that we were unable to reach a tentative agreement. The Transport Workers Union’s expectations were beyond what we could offer and come to agreement on.”

The contract between American Airlines and the workers covers about 12,000 bag-handlers, instructors, simulator technicians, and storage clerks. The Transport Workers Union of America also represents mechanics, dispatchers, and technical specialists at American Airlines, but those contracts are different from the one that is now on course for mediation.

American Airlines is already holding negotiations on contracts with its three largest labour groups, including the pilots and flight attendants.

American Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of the AMR Corporation, is the world’s largest airline in total passengers-miles transported as well as in passenger fleet size; the second largest airline in terms of aircraft operated; and the second largest airline company in the world (behind Air France-KLM) in terms of total operating revenues. American Airlines operates scheduled flights throughout the United States, as well as flights to Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Japan, China, and India. It is a founding member of the oneworld(R) Alliance.