DALLAS — Fresh off a federal court victory, American Airlines is demanding that the mechanics’ unions pay for hundreds of flight delays and cancellations over the last two months.
In a new court filing Tuesday, the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier said it wants sanctions “sufficient to compensate American for losses caused” from violations to a June 14 restraining order telling mechanics to cease work slowdowns to punish the company.
It could result in millions of dollars in fines if a U.S. District Court judge decides to hold in contempt of court the Transport Workers Union and International Association of Machinists, with 30,000 members at American Airlines.
American Airlines’ flight cancellations nearly doubled in June, with 3.43 percent of its flights at Philadelphia International Airport canceled, The Inquirer reported.
The airline, which operates 70 percent of the flights at Philadelphia’s airport, had the highest cancellation percentage of any major airline, and the airline blamed the mechanics union for the cancellations.
On Monday, Judge John McBryde issued a ruling that sided with American Airlines in its ongoing battle with the mechanics. He said union maintenance workers conspired to slow down work by refusing overtime, taking more time on jobs, and refusing off-site assignments. The unions have denied they slowed down work.
In less than two months since McBryde issued a temporary restraining order, American Airlines said continuing work slowdowns caused 950 flight cancellations and 280 delays of two hours or longer.
That’s disrupted the lives of about 170,000 “members of the public” during that period, the company’s court filing said.
“[The unions’] illegal activity — now twice ordered stopped by this court — has caused [and continue to cause] enormous hardship to American’s customers and team members, enormous financial losses to American, and untold harm in lost customer goodwill,” the company said.
The move is the latest in a May lawsuit brought by American that accused the two unions of a concerted effort to hurt the company over stalled contract negotiations. The two sides have been working on a new joint contract since 2015 following the merger between American and U.S. Airways in 2013.
In June, the judge ordered the unions to do everything possible to stop a statistical drop in work completed at maintenance bases. The unions have been adamant that they did, including face-to-face meetings with members, video messages, and signs on websites and in break rooms.
“The union has absolutely complied with Judge McBryde’s orders,” said TWU president John Samuelson. “It would make no sense to not comply.”
In a rally Tuesday morning near American Airlines headquarters for union catering workers, Samuelson told a crowd that the union plans to follow the judge’s order but will also continue to fight for workers.
Texas A&M labor law professor Michael Green said that after the court defeat, the unions have to be careful.
“The union has to be on guard against any future claims seeking contempt for not complying with the order that might require it to pay large sums of money,” Green said.
In two previous orders, McBryde has already demanded that the union issue fines and discipline against members who refused to go back to business as usual.
There is a precedent for hefty fines against the mechanics’ unions.
In 1999, U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall held the Allied Pilots Association for American Airlines in contempt of court for a coordinated effort to call in sick amid labor negotiations. Kendall levied a $10 million fine against the union. The fine was eventually negotiated away when a contracted was settled.