American, owned by AMR Corp., is one of the last major U.S. airlines to use the bankruptcy courts in this way. The company complains its labor costs are too high compared with its competitors. This is despite deep concessions taken by union members in 2003, including wage cuts of up to 30 percent and virtually no raises for the last nine years.
The proposals include shutting the company’s maintenance base in Fort Worth, Texas, at the cost of 1,200 jobs, and laying off more than 2,000 mechanics and others at the base in Tulsa, Okla.
Other cuts include 2,300 flight attendants, 400 pilots and unspecified numbers of gate agents. American wants to outsource daytime cabin cleaning, cargo, fueling, and other operations amounting to more than 4,000 jobs.
“It’s a race to the bottom,” Jamie Horowitz, a spokesman for the Transport Workers Union, told the Militant. “They plan to outsource these jobs to companies that pay lower wages, often with no benefits.”
The TWU represents 26,000 mechanics, baggage handlers, cleaners, and others at American and American Eagle.
Since 2003 workers at American “have increased productivity by an incredible amount,” Horowitz said. “Union members invented ways to overhaul an airplane in half the time.” The union worked together with management to market its maintenance bases to other airlines, but now American wants to move the work overseas, he said.
“There’s a big degree of shock that the company proposal is so deep,” Rick Walker, a ground service worker at Miami International Airport and member of TWU Local 568, told the Militant. “Everyone would just be throwing bags. All the jobs where you could rest your body would be contracted out. The brutality of the work would be even greater than it is now.”
In addition to the layoffs, American will “seek court approval to terminate our defined benefit pension plans” and “discontinue company-subsidized retiree medical coverage for current employees,” according to a letter from Jeff Brundage, senior vice president of human resources. The company is also demanding more “flexible” work rules.
The company’s demands are now to be negotiated with the TWU as well as the pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions. If no agreement is reached, American can ask the bankruptcy judge to impose new conditions. “We’re very much still fighting this,” said Horowitz.
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On the Picket Line
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