American Airlines is once again locked into tough negotiations with employee unions, only months after completing a merger with US Airways.
This week, American Airlines negotiators met with the union that represents US Airways maintenance workers — the International Association of Machinists — in Washington, D.C., trying to forge an agreement in contract talks that have been taking place since July 2011.
“We really didn’t make any progress this week,” said Tom Higginbotham, president of IAM Local 141 based in Kansas City.
IAM leaders say their membership wants to be paid at the same level as their counterparts at American Airlines, represented by the Transport Workers Union.
The two sides have been unable to find a deal for more than three years, and the IAM is asking the National Mediation Board to allow union members to strike.
Since the merger in December, the new management of American Airlines has been trying to settle protracted contract talks with a handful of union groups at US Airways, including flight attendants and maintenance workers, as well as pilots at regional carrier American Eagle.
The company reached a deal with US Airways flight attendants at the end of February, but talks between American Airlines and pilots at American Eagle broke down, and now American Airlines says it will take routes away from its wholly owned regional carrier.
American Airlines says it expects the NMB to reject the request for machinists to strike and order the groups back into mediation.
“Based on the meetings, we expect the National Mediation Board to schedule additional sessions to continue our discussions,” said William McGloshen, a spokesman for American.
Giving permission for an airline union to strike is rare, and the NMB will only respond to the request if it actually gives permission to strike, analysts say.
The negotiations are being watched closely by the Transport Workers Union, which has about 4,600 workers in Tulsa at the American Airlines Maintenance & Engineering Center, the company’s primary overhaul and repair facility.
“This is supposed to be the new and better American,” TWU president Harry Lombardo said in a statement earlier this week. “Management has said they want to have better labor relations than existed at either US Airways or the old American.”
The TWU and IAM signed an agreement last year to jointly represent workers at the new company in contract negotiations.
IAM members at US Airways, some 12,500 maintenance and fleet workers, say they want a contract in place until joint contract negotiations start between company and IAM and TWU representatives.