American Airlines Says Mechanics Are Causing Delays. Now, a Judge Could Force the Union to Pay for It

It's now up to a federal judge in Fort Worth to decide whether American Airlines mechanics intentionally slowed work to punish the company amid a breakdown in contract negotiations — and what he might have to do to get planes flying as usual.A trial is set for Monday in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth to settle a dispute between the world's largest airline and its mechanics unions. American says a June 14 court order to get back to normal working conditions hasn't been effective, and there have been even more maintenance-related flight delays and cancellations than before.Union officials say they've told employees to get back to work, but a stall in the four-year contract negotiation process "has dealt a severe blow to the morale and motivation of its front-line employees, which may be affecting the speed at which they do their safety-sensitive jobs," they said in a court filing.Judge John McBryde may have to decide what it takes to stop the alleged slowdown — whether it's a multimillion-dollar fine against the union or court sanctions that could weigh on negotiations for years to come. Or perhaps he could say the union isn't to blame for workers turning down overtime and off-site assignments.History doesn't bode well for the Transport Workers Union and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers if they lose. American sued the Allied Pilots Association in 1999 when pilots held a "sick out" during contract negotiations. Ultimately, the pilots' union was fined $45 million, a steep penalty for an organized labor group dependent on member dues."The real threat will be that the court can order the union to pay damages, and in some cases it's been millions of dollars," said Southern Methodist University labor law professor Grant Hayden. "Then there could be a permanent injunction that could be in force until they reach a contract agreement."American filed the lawsuit in May alleging that since February, mechanics working under the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Transport Workers Union have coordinated a work slowdown to keep aircraft on the ground. The airline has pointed specifically at overnight maintenance orders and how a larger share of those jobs aren't finished by the next morning when it's time to put planes back into service.   Continue reading...

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