Sunday, February 14, 1999

Judge holds American pilots' union in contempt


He threatens fines as sickout goes on

BY FRANK SWOBODA
The Washington Post

        Denouncing the pilots' union at American Airlines as extortionists, a federal judge in Texas Saturday held the union in contempt as the airline canceled 1,054 weekend flights.

        The judge threatened to fine the pilots millions of dollars for disobeying his order to end a week-long sickout that has disrupted the travel plans of more than half a million passengers.

        “Unfortunately, the radical element that appears to be in control of the Allied Pilots Association (APA) seems determined to fly American Airlines into the side of the mountain, taking themselves, the company, their co-workers and their customers with them,” U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall of Dallas wrote in his contempt order.

        He encouraged the union's 9,200 members to “remember this fiasco the next time they have union elections.”

$10 million deposit
        Judge Kendall, 45, a former Dallas police officer who has a large portrait of himself hanging in his courtroom and a penchant for straightforward, nonlegalistic language, warned the union that unless it quickly ended the sickout by their members, “all the assets of the union, including their strike war chest, will be capable of being safely stored in the overhead bin of a Piper Cub.”

        He described the union action as “the type of negotiations one usually sees when doing business with one of the five (Mafia) families in New York.”

        The union was directed to post $10 million with the court by noon Tuesday as a down payment on a fine that could run as high as $90 million, according to American's calculations on how much the job action has cost the airline. A hearing on the final amount is schedule for Wednesday.

Sick list drops
        Either amount would break the union financially, but the judge has the option to lower it if, for example, most of the pilots are back to work by Wednesday.

        American has estimated that it is losing $1.2 million for every 100 flights it is forced to cancel. The number of pilots calling in sick appeared to be dropping sharply Saturday, with the sick list down to approximately 1,700 from a high of nearly 2,400 earlier in the week. American employs 9,200 pilots.

        Since the start of the sickout, American said it has been forced to cancel 5,600 flights, with the number of cancellations reaching as high as 50 percent of scheduled daily flights. Saturday, American canceled 845 flights and announced it was already scrubbing 209 flights for today.

        Even if every pilot were to show up for work today, American officials estimate it would take a minimum of three days for the airline to resume a normal schedule, leaving no hope that normal operations would be resumed by the end of this holiday weekend.

        Pilots began staging a sickout a week ago to protest American's plans for integrating the 300 lower-paid pilots of Reno Air into the airline's mainline operation. APA wants Reno's pilots immediately integrated into American's pay scales to keep the company from using them as substitutes for APA's higher-paid members.

        American has argued the job action is an illegal strike under theNational Railway Labor Act, which governs labor relations in the rail and airline industries. The law prohibits any strike without government permission. The union argues the sickout is a rank-and-file action not sanctioned by the union or its leadership.

TODAY'S NEWS ON PILOTS DISPUTE from Associated Press



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