An American Airlines Boeing 777 plane taxis towards the gate at Miami International Airport. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
The union that represents American Airlines pilots says it's conducting drills, preparing to disrupt the airline's flight schedule if federal mediation fails to bring a new contract agreement with management.
Union President Lloyd Hill said his group has decided against an all-out strike that would shut down the airline completely. Instead, the union is instead looking at a strategy to create random disruption and chaos at the nation's second largest airline, he said.
"If I were the company, I wouldn't be underestimating what's going on," he said.
The union's decision to talk about its post-mediation plans appears designed to send a message to the Obama administration.
Union leaders said they believe it's more likely they'll be released from federal mediation if the administration understands the union will not call a general strike that would shut down the entire airline, interfering with interstate commerce.
Without a release from mediation, any strike action the union takes would be a violation of federal law.
The company reminded the union of that fact in a statement.
"It's important that union officials are mindful of their specific obligation under the Railway Labor Act to take every reasonable step to prevent operational disruptions or other unlawful job actions," the statement said.
American's management declined a request to be interviewed.
Asked to describe specifics of the union's post-mediation plans, Hill said, "It could be many things, and I'm not at liberty to discuss all the things we're planning, but use your imagination, it could be any number of things."
When asked if that included telling pilots not to fly certain routes on some days, Hill said "all of those things are a possibility."
Management and the pilot's union have been working with federal mediators since June 2008.
Union and company officials said they still hope to reach agreement through mediation. If that does not happen this year, union leaders said hope to be released from the process before the end of 2009.
Management said it believes without an agreement, the mediation process would likely continue at least into 2010 -- effectively preventing any sort of strike.
Union leaders are clearly looking to the new administration in Washington, hoping for help as they negotiate.
"We have high hopes the Obama administration will equalize what's been for quite some time a very management-favorable, lopsided process," Hill said.
In its statement, the airline said it remained "fully committed to the mediation process."
"American hopes union negotiators will focus their full attention on finding a timely and sensible resolution to our negotiations," the airline stated.