American Airlines Inc. is sending letters to its unions warning them that their members cannot participate in illegal activities as they protest executive stock bonuses over the next week.
"We are delivering letters to our union," American spokeswoman Sue Gordon confirmed Tuesday. "The purpose is to remind them of their legal obligation under the Railway Labor Act."
The letters are telling the unions that the employees cannot disrupt the airline's operations or otherwise violate the federal law that governs relations between an airline and its employees.
Asked if the airline has seen or expects any illegal activities, Ms. Gordon said it "would be difficult for us to speculate on that point. What's important for us to do right now is to make sure that we go on record reminding our unions of their responsibilities under the law, and we thought that would be the appropriate and prudent route to take."
The major unions representing American's employees are sponsoring or participating in events to protest American's plans to issue stock to an estimated 874 top executives and managers.
The bonus plan, which is based on the performance of AMR Corp.'s stock compared with that of major competitors, will award stock valued at about $170 million to $180 million, based on current stock prices.
The Allied Pilots Association plans a protest rally and march next Wednesday, the day that the airline will issue the stock. The Transport Workers Union, which represents mechanics, ground workers and others, has been invited to participate.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants plans events, including picketing, on Friday and Tuesday.
APFA president Tommie Hutto-Blake said Tuesday that American officials "not only warned me, but they demanded that I direct our membership. I said, are you nuts? That is your job, No. 1. I'm not going to direct my membership. I'm saying it week after week on our hotline. They're starting to play hardball."
Ms. Hutto-Blake said her union is "totally opposed" to any illegal job actions. "First, we don't want to put our members at risk. Second of all, we don't want to weaken our union."
American pilot Denny Breslin, a spokesman for the pilots' union, said any illegal work actions "wouldn't serve our interests at all. You won't find anything from us other than just simply encouraging our folks to go to work."
A federal judge in 1999 ordered the pilots' union to pay American $45.5 million in damages, ruling that the union had failed to stop an illegal sickout by pilots.
American forgave the last $26 million in exchange for concessions worth $660 million annually from pilots.
"After the sickout, it's pretty clear that if you stick your neck out, somebody's going to cut it off," Mr. Breslin said. "It's unlikely you'll hear anyone boasting that they're going to do anything."
John M. Conley, the TWU system coordinator at American, said the union "will remind our members of the law."
"Obviously, we're going to support the provisions of the Railway Labor Act," he said.
"We're not real sure what the company is talking about in the letter. ... It appears they have an impression of some kind of untoward action" by union members, he said.
American's major union are sponsoring events to protest the carrier's plans to issue nearly $180 million in stock to about 874 company executives.
Leaders of two unions at American Airlines have objected to stock-based bonuses that executives of the money-losing carrier are due to receive in April.
According to the unions, the payouts violate a provision in their 2003 contracts that puts restrictions on cash bonuses to managers or executives.
According to the unions, the management payouts violate a provision in their 2003 contracts that puts restrictions on any cash bonuses to managers or executives.