I have covered the struggle American has had with their mechanics and flight attendants for some time. American Airlines secured a new order from a judge this week that could make American Airlines flights less safe, however.
Judge Orders Penalties Against Mechanics Personally
On Wednesday July 10th a judge overseeing the case American Airlines brought against their mechanics ordered mechanics to not turn down off-site work or overtime. It was an effort to bring compliance as the previous threat (up to millions of dollars in penalties) would be paid by the union who has made efforts to stem any slow down but can’t directly control the workforce. That would be management. I also called the previous suggestions for penalty unenforcable, and it appears that the judge agreed.
“A federal judge slapped the American Airlines mechanics unions with new, heavier restrictions that could include fines and other discipline for maintenance workers who turn down overtime and off-site assignments.” Dallas Morning News.
How Do You Force Workers to Accept Overtime?
Overtime, by definition of the term, is time outside of agreed and normal work hours. Mechanics who accepted overtime last month or last year may have done so to pay off a bill, offset a sick relative who has been unable to work – maybe they just wanted to buy a new Nintendo Switch; previous overtime work does not necessarily relate to a desire for more hours generally.
Further, the less mechanics like their work environment, the less likely they are to want to be there outside of what is absolutely required. With this new order, the judge now wants the union to pass fines down to individual members because they didn’t accept optional work?
American Airlines Management Needs New Approach
Both parties escalated the issue to some degree. However, this approach is unhelpful as American Airlines can sue labor, but labor can’t sue American Airlines for being unreasonable with their demands. It’s no secret that American Airlines was having performance issues prior to the scuffle with labor, it’s not that American was already great and the mechanics slow down caused a deterioration of their performance, it merely enhanced it, by 8%.
But American continuing to pursue this line will only unite the workers against management further. If I was a mechanic, I wouldn’t work one minute outside of my contract that should have been renewed years ago. That only hurts American more that they are right now and makes relations worse.
Is This Enforceable?
I wrote before about how the original judge order was unenforceable. I must have been right because they have enforced nothing from the first order but have now threatened to enforce the order against individual mechanics causing issues.
The only way to truly enforce this order would be to penalize any mechanic that failed to accept overtime and there are a million reasons why that’s a terrible idea. Maybe it’s an employee’s child’s birthday but now they have to decide if they will risk paying a fine by declining t0 work overtime that is by definition, optional.
If the union doesn’t pursue one and all who decline to work extra hours or off-site, they will have chosen some members over others, and they certainly can’t do that either.
I can understand American Airlines management’s need to stem the delays while their mechanics contract is further negotiated. I can also understand that mechanics who have not had a new contract in several years have exhausted the polite options. While the threat of pursuing mechanics personal finances may be enough of a scare to limit further action, I can’t see management and labor ever coming back from it if a mechanic is forced to pay a fine to not work overtime or off-site.
What do you think? Should mechanics be penalized for declining overtime? How should the union penalize? Is this a lawful order?