Sky Talk

The people who fix your planes at DFW are unhappy again. Here’s why

Holding signs reading “Billions made as American jobs fade” and shouting “What do we want? A contract. When do we want it? Now!,” hundreds of American Airlines mechanics and ground workers marched outside of Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Wednesday.

Almost four years after American Airlines merged with US Airways, the employees who fix the Fort Worth-based airline’s planes and handle baggage still don’t have a joint contract. And they’re worried that some of their jobs will be outsourced and moved overseas.

“I know our technicians here in the United States, their primary and very first concern that they have is the safety and security of the aircraft,” said Steve Halter, southwest region vice president for TWU Local 591. “Over there, I don’t know what’s going on. ... Many of the overseas maintenance facilities, they have people that are not even licensed working on the aircraft, where here we are.”

When American was going through bankruptcy in 2013, the company closed its Fort Worth maintenance base at Alliance Airport and moved some maintenance work to a third-party firm in China. Most major airlines now have airplane maintenance done overseas.

American also announced plans this year to build a maintenance hangar in Brazil but has repeatedly said it does not plan to fly aircraft to Brazil simply for maintenance work. Instead, aircraft that are already scheduled on routes to Brazil will have routine maintenance performed there during the usual 10 to 12 hours they are on the ground in between flights.

American spokesman Matt Miller said the company’s contract proposal offered to union leaders last week does not include outsourcing that would cause work to be shifted overseas and U.S. employees to lose their jobs.

“Everyone who has a job today would have one tomorrow,” Miller said. “And American will continue to do more maintenance and fleet service work in-house than any of our major competitors.”

The company also said that maintenance work done by third-party contractors is subject to FAA safety standards.

There has been recent movement at the negotiating table as American management offered a complete pay, work scope and benefits proposal to union leaders last week. Negotiation meetings are scheduled through the end of August.

But the TWU-IAM Association, which represents 30,000 employees, said the contract proposal was disappointing. Details of the proposal were not released but American said it included industry-leading wages as well as improvements in overtime pay, holidays, vacations, sick and shift premiums.

The picket lines on Wednesday stretched the entire length of the arrivals level of Terminal D. Holding a sign that said “industry best and nothing less,” John Chestnut, a baggage handler and fleet services worker at DFW Airport, said he’s frustrated that other American unions have signed new contracts while his union has been unable to reach a new agreement.

“I think we’ve waited long enough,” said Chestnut, who has worked for American for close to 30 years. “I think it’s time to force the company’s hand to say, ‘Hey can we get a contract?’ We’ve been loyal. We’ve given a lot since Sept. 11 and now I think it’s time for them to give back.”

With American generating billions in profits since the merger — the company is scheduled to release its second-quarter earnings on Friday — union leaders say the company can afford to pay its mechanics and ground workers top dollar.

Under an interim agreement signed last fall, mechanics received pay raises ranging from 15 to 36 percent while ground workers received 24 percent pay raises as part of the deal. The big pay increases followed several years when the workers received no wage hikes.

But with Delta Air Lines giving its ground workers raises this spring, union leaders say they still lag behind their counterparts at other airlines.

TWU International President John Samuelsen, who attended Wednesday’s picket, said American’s mechanics, store clerks and fleet services group are united in fighting for an industry-leading contract during these negotiations.

“We have the will and the desire to fight for what we believe is rightfully ours, which is a piece of the economic prosperity that American Airlines is enjoying right now,” Samuelsen said.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk