Technician's Turmoil: Working in the unfriendly skies

Technicians’ Turmoil Working in the unfriendly skies Stephen P. Prentice NEWSGRAM: “Mechanics pay reduced 14 percent.” There is no doubt that the airline industry is in for a long dry spell. After two years of record losses...


Technicians’ Turmoil

Working in the unfriendly skies

Stephen P. Prentice
Stephen P. Prentice

NEWSGRAM: “Mechanics pay reduced 14 percent.”

There is no doubt that the airline industry is in for a long dry spell. After two years of record losses things still don’t look too good. As one pundit put it . . . the problem is simply high costs and reduced income. No kidding! The traditional carriers still don’t get it. Costs are out of line but don’t start by reducing mechanics’ wages that are already too low! Here’s a small part of the problem.

Mechanics and the court
As you might recall, the mechanics and their union at the friendly skies airline were sued back in 2001 during contract negotiations. The company alleged that they were acting in concert to provoke a work slowdown. The mechanics were following FAR’s to the letter of the law. That did slow things down. After all ATC and flight crews do it from time to time to make a point and seem to get away with it. Why not the mechanics?

We all know that, but for the ingenuity and flexibility of our mechanics, the airlines could not operate under the crushing load of regulatory requirements. FAA even admits that. A mechanic puts his license and livelihood on the line every day. He should be compensated accordingly, just like the flight deck people! But that’s another story.

The contract had expired and talks were dragging on for many months. The archaic process of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) was, as usual, providing an advantage to the employer with the law’s extended time procedures that keep workers on the job long after their contract had expired and preventing any immediate strike threat. It can only be called limbo land. All perfectly legal however under the terms of the RLA.

During the dispute the mechanics were communicating with each other via email in order to keep informed of the proceedings. The company said that the communication was designed to implement a work slowdown in violation of the RLA. They sought relief in the U.S. District Court in Illinois to stop it and incident to the lawsuit they sought an order to gain access to the computer files and names of the people who were communicating. The order was granted by the court. Money to fight this action was not available and the individual mechanics knuckled under to the legal pressure by threats of contempt of court action. Several of the mechanics who were thought to be the “ringleaders” were personally attacked by the legal process.

Flight crews had already been granted big time raises in an effort to keep them happy and the mechanics were seeking similar treatment. It did not happen.

Fast forward
Now fast forward to late last year when the company asked for voluntary salary reductions in view of their dire financial situation. Flight crews accepted a 28 percent hit putting them close to where they were before. The mechanics refused to go along with any pay reduction. (And for good reason . . . they did not get any favors from the company in the last go around, indeed, they got sued!)

We all know an airline cannot begin to function without flight crews and mechanics. They are the only people required by FAR’s to join in the release of an aircraft for flight. But, as said recently by a senior FAA person, “ . . . maintenance is the foundation of aviation safety . . .”

Mechanics form the first line of defense on this point.

The bankrupcy
The company said that it would file bankrupcy unless mechanics agreed to pay reductions. The government loan guarantee department, said that without the mechanics’ cooperation they would not support loans. The mechanics refused. The government said no to loans and the company filed for bankrupcy protection on Dec. 9, 2002. Which, in the opinion of many, was slated to happen anyway. Many believe that the papers and the lawyers were all set to go even if the company got cooperation of the mechanics and loan guarantees from the government.

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