American mechanics say offer was substandard
May 17, 2012 (Menafn - Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Aircraft mechanics at bankrupt American Airlines voted to reject the company's "final best" contract proposal because it isn't the last and it's a long way from being the best the company can offer the Transport Workers Union, workers say.
"Mechanics didn't vote "no" out of anger, we voted "no" because it was a bad contract and we are content to continue to negotiate along with the pilots and flight attendants until we get offered a good one," said Dan McCoy, a 25-year American mechanic at the Maintenance & Engineering Center and a member of TWU Local 514 in Tulsa.
Gary Peterson, president of Local 565 at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, said American's offer was inadequate in almost every respect.
"We have to have some sort of job protection -- either the aircraft we continue to work on in the future or long-term job security," Peterson said. "We need some sort of pay parity (with network airline competitors) in the future after American reaches profitability. We need a cap in medical plan costs, 401(k) contributions closer to the industry standard and some sort of cost-of-living consideration for people on the (East and West) coasts."
A day after ballots were tabulated on the company's offer to 24,000 TWU members, mechanics said Wednesday the perception is false that 56 percent of the mechanics & related work group voted against it because they were angry about living under wage and benefit concessions they agreed to in 2003.
"In my opinion, as one who voted "no," anger may have been in the mix but it was hardly a determining factor in the decision," said Bob Owens, president of TWU Local 562 in New York. "The offer that AA wanted mechanics and stock clerks to accept was unacceptable. They offered a deal that's unprecedented for this industry.
"Mechanics at JFK (New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport) look 100 yards across the ramp and see mechanics with the same skills, qualifications and liabilities at UPS making over 17 an hour more than they are, with better benefits, work rules, health care coverage, pension, more vacation, holidays and job security. In 2002, we made more than they did."
The ratification vote on American's offer to the TWU was Thursday through Monday.
Although the mechanics & related and stores/stock clerks rejected the offer, five TWU work groups voted to accept it: dispatch, fleet service, ground school instructors, maintenance control technicians and simulator technicians.
The final tally on the company's offer was 8,931 "yes" votes (50.97 percent), 8,590 "no" votes (49.03 percent).
For the five work groups who voted to accept the company's offer, they will work under its terms, which include 7.5 percent wage increases over six years, early retirement incentives, company retiree medical prefunding refund, 401(k) match up to 5.5 percent, a first-dollar profit-sharing plan and production incentives, American executives said.
The mechanics & related, including 5,600 workers at the Tulsa maintenance base, and stores/stock clerks now face American's motion to nullify their collective bargaining agreement in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
If Judge Sean Lane grants the company's motion, American will seek to impose its March 22 "term sheet" proposal. It calls for 13,000 job cuts companywide, including up to 2,600 in Tulsa, outsourcing of up to 40 percent of aircraft maintenance now performed in house, and changes in work rules and job classifications that will mean longer hours and reduced pay for some workers, American executives said.
But mechanics who voted to reject the company's offer said it simply means the two sides will continue to negotiate a consensual agreement.
"It is not uncommon for unions to not accept the company's first offer and let it go to the judge while they continue to negotiate," said McCoy, the Tulsa mechanic. "It happened when the other airlines filed for bankruptcy, too, so it's no big deal. The sky isn't falling and the Tulsa base will continue on, and we will eventually have a new contract."
McCoy said mechanics are resigned to the loss of their pensions, retiree medical coverage and work rules, which govern how American deploys its work force. He said if the company tweaked a few items in the offer -- a three-year rather than six-year contract, improved pay, vacations, sick time, holidays and medical coverage -- it would be ratified.
"Bring us up so we are among the average with other airlines," McCoy said.
Mechanics also said the proposed merger between American and US Airways had no effect on the ratification vote.
Last month, US Airways CEO Doug Parker negotiated tentative contracts with the TWU, American's unionized pilots and flight attendants that would become effective in a merger.
Leaders of the three unions said a merger would be preferable to American's stand-alone plan and would create the nation's largest airline that could better compete with United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and other carriers.
"All it is is a distraction two years down the road," said Chuck Schalk, vice president of Local 562 in New York. "Our guys know it's a promise by another CEO. Are people going to have full faith in the hope of getting something better later? I want to get something better now."
D.R. Stewart 918-581-8451
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