AP News

Workers' union back at talks with American

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Workers at American Airlines' Tulsa maintenance base said they were hopeful Monday that the bankrupt air carrier could reach labor agreements with pilots, flight attendants and mechanics.

American has said a bankruptcy court judge could throw out current contracts with workers if it's unable to reach deals with them. The Transport Workers Union represents the mechanics and related workers, while the flight attendants and pilots are each represented by their own unions. Five other TWU groups have already reached deals with American.

After a stalemate that lasted for several weeks, American announced it would resume negotiations with its flight attendants and mechanics this week. Company pilots are expected to begin voting on a new contract in mid-July.

In May, the mechanics group — the largest TWU group at the Tulsa hub — rejected the embattled company's final labor contract offer, with 56 percent voting against it.

American, which has about 73,000 employees, filed for bankruptcy protection in November and announced a plan in February to eliminate thousands of union jobs as part of a cost-cutting move, including hundreds in Tulsa. American is Tulsa's largest private employer, with about 7,000 workers.

American was able to reach deals in May with five TWU units representing fleet service clerks, dispatchers, ground school instructors, maintenance control technicians and simulator technicians. Those workers gave up certain parts of their contract, but the company said the decision would save about 1,300 jobs.

"It's time to close this chapter and move forward with new contracts that will help build the foundation for a new, profitable and growing American Airlines." said Bruce Hicks, a spokesman for the airline.

Workers at the Tulsa hub said Monday the union realizes layoffs are likely even if a new labor agreement is reached, but they hope a union-approved contract would save some jobs.

"We're hoping they'll bring something back for us to vote on," said Vickey Wall, an engine parts washer with more than 26 years in the company. "It's something to say the pilots have something and the flight attendants and mechanics are going back in negotiation.

"That's the best we can hope for at this point," she said Monday.

Del Cotton, a machinist with 25 years in the company, said the Tulsa workforce has sacrificed for a long time and expects to take a hit again. "It hasn't changed. We'll still have some job loss, and that's still up in the air," Cotton said. "Who knows where that layoff line will stop? The writing's on the wall."

American, whose parent, AMR Corp. of Fort Worth, Texas, is working through bankruptcy court after losing $11 billion since 2001. It has operated in Tulsa for more than six decades.

Union leaders have called the Tulsa hub "the largest concentration of middle-class jobs in Oklahoma," with the average employee making about $50,000 a year, similar to the city's other main industry of oil. If the worst of the cuts go forward, some workers and city officials fear an economic collapse similar to one that hit Tulsa during the 1980s oil bust.

Any job cuts would also be a blow to the region's burgeoning aviation industry, which employs about 20,000 people, and could cost the local economy $300 million, according to some estimates.

"Maybe there will be some day when it will be a sunny day instead of a bleak day," said Cotton, the machinist. "There aren't too many sunny days left in the airline industry."

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