Ground Workers to Open Contract Talks This Fall With American Airlines

DALLAS_The largest union at American Airlines, representing more than 27,000 ground workers, said Monday it will open negotiations this fall for a new contract with the nation's biggest carrier.

The Transport Workers Union did not announce specific demands, but it noted that American's parent company earned a profit last year and has seen its stock price rise 8-fold since 2003, when it nearly filed for bankruptcy protection.

The union said ground workers, including mechanics, deserved some credit for the turnaround by increasing productivity and taking on maintenance work from other airlines.

"The gains are there, it's time to share," said James C. Little, the union's international president who led the TWU group at Fort Worth-based American for several years.

Company officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

The union said it expected negotiations to begin in November. The union could have waited until next year to begin the talks.

Ground workers and other employees at American are working under 2003 contracts that included wage and benefit concessions designed to keep the airline out of bankruptcy. Those contracts can be changed in May 2008.

The unions, especially the pilots' group, have criticized the company for payments of stock to management that they say could match or top AMR's $231 million (€178.6 million) profit for 2006.

AMR lost $8.1 billion (€6.26 billion) from 2001 through 2005. Among the cost-saving steps it considered to avoid bankruptcy was closing maintenance hubs.

The company and the TWU agreed to streamline operations and seek work from other airlines to keep a hub open at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The union said the facility is expected to bring in $100 million (€77 million) in new revenue this year and $175 million (€135 million) next year.

Little said the partnership would be tested by contract negotiations.

"Our members tightened their belts, rallied around this airline and kept it out of bankruptcy, boosted productivity and put American's balance sheet in the black," he said. "Other union partnerships have not produced the same results. The gains need to be shared with the people who generate new revenue and keep the planes flying."

The union said it would spend several months soliciting proposals from local groups before deciding on bargaining strategies. TWU represents mechanics, fleet workers and other employees. Pilots and flight attendants have their own unions.

The pilots' union recently began talking to AMR negotiators about a new contract to take effect in 2008.