, Muskogee, OK

April 15, 2013

Airline unions woo Tulsa mechanics

Associated Press

— TULSA (AP) — American Airlines mechanics may feel like the belles of the aerospace ball.

After all, three labor unions have targeted mechanics at the Tulsa Maintenance & Engineering Center with barbecues, phone calls and even doorstep visits, reciting sonnets of better job security, improved benefits and courage to stand up to American Airlines executives.

And a fourth suitor is waiting quietly and biding its time to make its own case.

As American Airlines emerges from a painful bankruptcy reorganization and prepares to merge with US Airways later this year, three unions are lining up their support to be the new bargaining unit for more than 5,000 mechanics at the Tulsa base, out of 11,000 in the company.

After 16 months of bankruptcy negotiations and steep concessions, the unions are using animosity from contentious contract talks as a platform for their own candidacy.

"This is the time for another union to come in and make their case, and these things can get competitive," said Robert Bruno, an organized labor expert and professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. "There is a lot at stake for everyone involved."

One union, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Organization, said it plans to submit signatures at the end of May that would force a vote to make mechanics choose between the Transport Workers Union of America and a new labor group, the Tulsa World reported (

A second group, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said it has nearly enough signatures to force a vote. The International Association of Machinists, which represents US Airways mechanics, said it plans to make its case to be the group's bargaining unit when American Airlines merges with US Airways later this year.

All the while, American Airlines mechanics are dealing with big changes of their own at work due to a bankruptcy that forced billions in cuts and a merger that will give employees a new boss and a new hope for a profitable airline.

With nearly 11,000 maintenance workers nationwide, American Airlines is one of the jewels of the aerospace industry for labor unions.

About 5,000 of those mechanics are at the Tulsa base, which conducts heavy maintenance for American's entire fleet since the company closed its 1,200-employee Alliance base in Fort Worth in 2012.

The Transport Workers Union negotiated the August contract with American Airlines that gave a 15 percent raise over six years and improved health benefits. The TWU also struck the deal with American Airlines and US Airways that promises another 4.5 percent raise when the merger closes in the third quarter of this year and gives a 4.8 percent equity stake in the new company to union mechanics.

The mechanics union is critical, not only as the employees' bargaining representative with American Airlines management, but because unions also dictate seniority.

That seniority was crucial when American Airlines laid off nearly 400 workers in Tulsa last year.

"Unions decide if seniority is based on how long you work at the company or how long you worked at a location or maybe something else," said Chuck Schalk, an American Airlines mechanic at JFK Airport in New York and co-chairman for AMFA.