American Airlines workers rally at Hartsfield-Jackson

Protest plan to cut 13,000 jobs

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz
Diane Stringer, an American Airlines employee, participated in a rally at Hartsfield-Jackson. American Airlines plans to cut 13,000 jobs nationwide.

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz Diane Stringer, an American Airlines employee, participated in a rally at Hartsfield-Jackson. American Airlines plans to cut 13,000 jobs nationwide.

A small group of unionized American Airlines employees held banners before the public, protesting the bankrupt airline’s announced plans to cut 13,000 jobs, pension and healthcare benefits nationwide.

The four employees are members of the Transport Workers Union, who participated in a rally at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Wednesday morning. The participants have been working for the airline for more than a decade.

Ronald Venable, local station chairman for Atlanta for the Transport Workers Union, said the airline workers rallied to say that American Airlines isn’t negotiating fairly with the union to resolve the bankruptcy issue.

“We said that, from the very beginning, they should not have filed bankruptcy,” said Venable, who has been a fleet service clerk for American Airlines for 33 years.

American Airlines and American Eagle are subsidiaries of AMR Corporation, which declared bankruptcy on Nov. 29, 2011, and announced plans to remove 13,000 positions. Jamie Horwitz, spokesman for the union, said, of those positions, 9,000 belong to members of the Transport Workers Union, which represents 26,000 AMR workers overall.

Venable said in Atlanta, all American Airlines workers who are members of the Transport Workers Union will lose their jobs. The airlines included this in their proposal to the union. The positions include aircraft mechanics, fleet service clerks, automotive mechanics and storage mechanics, he said.

“We feel like we’re being targeted because our jobs are the ones that are going to be eliminated,” he explained. “Our jobs are subject to be contracted out ... they’ve already solicited contracts from ... contractors to do our work. So this is not something we’ve been speculating on — these are real facts.”

The Ellenwood resident said the union had assisted the carrier, in an attempt to steer it clear of bankruptcy since 2003, giving back to the company more than $5 billion.

Instead, Venable said, they’ve [American] used the money to give each of the company’s 44 vice presidents $1 million bonuses.

“I took pay cuts, they got bonuses,” added Joe Shelby, a 17-year American Airlines employee and union member.

Venable said the company mismanaged the money, and now employees are paying the price. The billions of dollars were supposed to stabilize the airline by enhancing work rules, benefits and salaries, he said. American Airlines “said if we gave back all those concessions, they would not have to go through bankruptcy, and those [were] the things they needed,” he explained.

Bruce Hicks, spokesman for American Airlines, said it’s a challenging time for everybody at American Airlines and the company knows it’s difficult. He said the decisions made by the airlines were not easy, but were necessary.

“Our goal is to preserve as many jobs as possible and emerge from restructuring, a successful, profitable company ... quickly reaching consensual agreements with each of our unions to help American Airlines reduce its costs and regain competitive footing in the industry,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

According to airline officials, at the time the company declared bankruptcy, it had $4.1 billion in unrestricted cash and short-term investments, to pay its vendors, suppliers and other business partners. American Airlines declined to comment further.

Horwitz said the rally extended far beyond Atlanta. Members of the union, flight attendants who are part of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, retirees, labor supporters and family members rallied at other airports across the country, he said.

Those included Dallas/Fortworth International Airport in Texas, California’s Los Angeles International Airport, and San Francisco International Airport, as well as, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport.

“We’re standing firm for our families and for the future,” added James Little, international president of the Transport Workers Union. “AMR’s draconian plan to offshore maintenance work and outsource other jobs is bad for American [Airlines] and bad for America, and must be challenged.”

Venable said employees across the country are working together to find a solution to these issues. “We are trying to maintain what we have and not allowing them to just keep taking and taking and taking from us and them to continue to mismanage,” he said.

Horwitz explained that the union represents 200,000 workers and retirees who mostly hold jobs in commercial aviation, public transportation and passenger rail.