American Airlines Asks Court to Block Agents’ Union Vote

AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, the bankrupt carrier fighting to cut labor costs, asked a federal court to block a union-representation election among passenger service employees.

American argued before U.S. District Judge Terry Means in Fort Worth, Texas, today that the National Mediation Board applied an outdated standard when it authorized an election and must require a higher threshold before voting can occur.

“There’s a clear congressional directive here and the board ran afoul of it,” Roger Diseker, a lawyer for Fort Worth-based American, told the judge. Means said he would rule on the dispute later today or tomorrow.

American sued in May, seeking a ruling prohibiting the agency from directing an election unless there is a “showing of interest” from at least 50 percent of the employees, not the 35 percent standard the board used.

Passenger service employees, who take reservations and work at ticket counters and gates, were set to vote on whether to join the Communications Workers of America when American obtained a temporary restraining order June 13 stopping the voting.

American argued the 50 percent standard for an election took effect under federal law on Feb. 14, before the agency authorized the election. There are almost 10,000 workers in the passenger service employee class, according to the union.

Labor Savings

“We will continue to stand up for our employees and respect their right to decide whether or not to seek union representation, but want to ensure the correct law was applied in our case,” Missy Cousino, a spokeswoman for American, said in a statement.

The airline, which filed for bankruptcy last year, is seeking $1.25 billion in annual labor savings as part of its restructuring. It has sought court approval to scrap union contracts with pilots, flight attendants and mechanics.

Peter Wechsler, a government attorney representing the National Mediation Board, told the judge that the 35 percent standard applied because there was a Dec. 7 deadline for employees to turn in cards indicating they wanted an election.

Before the hearing, about 30 employees and members of the CWA demonstrated outside the courthouse.

“American wants to stop the vote, and we think that’s unjust,” CWA District 6 Vice President Claude Cummings said. “We’re here to support the workers.”

The case is American Airlines Inc. v. National Mediation Board, 12-00276, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth).

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