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American Airlines pilots sue to cut back on voluntary overtime

American Airlines pilots hope they can reduce layoffs later this year by cutting back on voluntary overtime flying, but are worried about being accused of organizing an illegal work slowdown.

The Allied Pilots Association filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S District Court in Washington, D.C., asking the judge to declare that it’s legal to advise pilots of their right to refuse to work voluntary overtime.

Their fears stem from a suit filed by United Airlines against the Air Line Pilots Association earlier this week. The airline claimed the union, which represents United pilots, was organizing an illegal slowdown by encouraging members to refuse to work additional hours and call in sick.

United officials claim that hundreds of flights have been cancelled this summer due to a jump in pilot sick leave.

“We don’t want to be similarly accused,” said Karl Schricker, a spokesman with the Allied Pilots Association, which represents pilots at Fort Worth-based American.

American spokeswoman Tami McLallen said the airline hadn't seen the suit and couldn't comment on specifics. But she pointed out that the company has reached agreements with flight attendants and ground workers to reduce layoffs.

The company proposed a deal last month to give senior pilots incentives to leave. The union says it will offer a counter-proposal next week.

"We look forward to their response," McLallen said.

In their suit, union officials claim that informing members of their right to refuse overtime is a longstanding practice and is legal under the federal Railway Labor Act, which governs airline labor negotiations.

A reduction in overtime flying would likely mean fewer layoffs, Schricker said. American plans to eliminate 200 pilot jobs when it downsizes its schedule next month.

The airline currently has 1,970 pilots on furlough. Many of those would be laid off were only recently recalled. Some pilots spent years waiting to return to their jobs after being laid off in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.