American Airline unions navigate difficult bankruptcy trail

Members of the Transport Workers Union who work for American Airlines this week will begin receiving information about their upcoming vote on the company’s final best offer for a new contract.

AMR, the holding company that owns American, filed for bankruptcy in November and earlier this year filed a Section 1113 pleading with the bankruptcy judge asking him to terminate its union contracts. Since then, TWU and American have been negotiating for a new contract. In April, the company made its final best offer.

Over the weekend, TWU, the Allied Pilots Association, and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants co-signed an open letter to the AMR Board of Directors urging a merger with US Airways.

In a related development, American is blocking an attempt by its non-union customer service representatives to join the Communication Workers of America and win collective bargaining rights.

In a video message available on the TWU website, union President James Little told members that the union leadership would not be recommending a position on American’s final offer. “The decision to vote yes or no is yours and yours alone,” Little said to members.

In March, American proposed a new contract to the bankruptcy court that would replace the current contract. The union since then has been negotiating with the company. Little said that the union negotiating team secured some changes to the company’s original proposal that “limit some of the harsh concessions” demanded by American. Notably, the new offer saves more than 3,000 jobs eliminated in the company’s first proposal. But Little also called the company’s final offer “concessionary and decimating.”

If workers reject the final offer, the bankruptcy judge will rule on whether to accept or reject the company’s request to terminate its contract with TWU. If the judge terminates the contract, TWU would remain the bargaining agent for the company’s ground crew and maintenance workers, and negotiations for a new contract would take place. In the mean time, the company’s March proposal would be imposed, and workers would work under the terms and conditions of that contract.

Little urged members to compare the two proposals and said that a full text of the two proposals and a side-by-side summary is available at www.twubkfacts.org. He also said that members should receive voting information in the mail by May 10.

Little said that this vote would have no effect on a proposed merger between American and US Airways. Over the weekend, an open letter co-signed by leaders of TWU, the Allied Pilots Association, and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants appeared in the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram urging the board to merge with US Airways.

The letter said that American management’s stand alone plan for exiting bankruptcy “has been greeted with almost universal skepticism by industry analysts.” It went on to say that a proposed merger tentatively agreed to by US Airways and the three unions would create a vital company capable of competing with Delta and United. It would also preserve 6,200 jobs that would otherwise be eliminated under management’s plan.

Meanwhile, the Communication Workers of America reported today that American has ignored an order by the National Mediation Board to provide the board with the names and addresses of 9,600 American customer service representatives. The board planned to provide the workers with information about a May 17 union representation election when American non-union customer service representatives will vote on whether they want to be represented by CWA.

“American Airlines CEO Tom Horton hopes that by breaking the law, he will be able to postpone the election while laying off hundreds of eligible employees and forcing others to make an immediate and irrevocable decision about early retirement,” said Beth Allen, CWA online communications director. “Breaking the law to interfere with an election is simply not acceptable in a democracy.”

Allen also said that union supporters could send a message to NMB General Counsel Mary Johnson urging her to “stand up to American Airlines and ensure the election moves forward.”

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