In recent months, most job news at American Airlines involved layoffs and union contracts. On Wednesday, Miami’s largest airline carrier said it will hire 80 full-time South Florida reservations and sales agents who will work from home.
“It’s terrific news,’’ said Art Torno, American’s vice president for Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America and who is based in Miami.
The announcement came on the heels of a positive earnings report earlier in the day. Despite disruptions from Superstorm Sandy and a pilots slowdown, American parent AMR Corp. reported net income of $262 million in the fourth quarter of 2012 — a huge reversal from its $1.1 billion loss in 2011’s fourth quarter. The company credited a 13 percent decrease in labor costs as it eliminated thousands of jobs and reworked union contracts to cut costs under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The reservation sales agent is a new job classification for Miami and pays a starting salary of $9.53 per hour plus health and travel benefits; within six months the salary moves to $10 per hour. Candidates must live within a 75 radius of Miami International Airport for supervisory and training reasons, Torno said. No incentives were involved in bringing the jobs to Miami, he said.
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“Miami is important for American and locating these positions here further underscores our commitment to the community,” said Art Torno, “What’s good for Miami is good for American Airlines.’’
A spokesman for the Communications Workers of America said the hires were part of a pattern in which American has eliminated high-paying jobs in favor of ones that pay lower wages, such as the work-at-home positions. “It’s another attempt to restructure their company on the backs of employees,’’ said CWA spokesman Chuck Porcari.
Earlier in the day, customer-service agents at American Airlines narrowly rejected a union’s bid to represent them in collective bargaining with the company. The union said it lost votes because American cut about 2,000 agent jobs after filing for bankruptcy protection in November 2011. Spokeswoman Candice Johnson said departing workers had to give up job-recall rights to get severance payments, which made them ineligible to vote.
American acknowledged that about 900 agents who took early-out bonuses gave up their recall rights, and those who left before the election couldn’t vote. The airline countered, however, that it wanted about 800 people hired after the union filed its election petition to vote, but it lost a ruling on the issue from the National Mediation Board, which oversees union-representation elections.
Currently American and its regional carrier American Eagle employ 9,894 employees in Miami-Dade county and 43 in Fort Lauderdale, making it one of the largest private employers in the area. Overall, 49 percent of American’s sales and reservations agents work from home at hubs near airports in Norfolk, Va.; Hartford, Conn.; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area; Raleigh-Durham, N.C. area and Tucson, Ariz.
The Miami area is one of five American hubs the company has targeted for growth. In 2012, the airline grew capacity by 4.6 percent when counted in available seat miles and increased the number of passengers by 6.1 percent. The airline added seven new destinations from Miami in 2012 and announced four more earlier this month.
The additional Miami employees were needed because of that growth and attrition elsewhere; no layoffs were involved, said Torno. He said he anticipated future Miami hires, including flight attendants, later this year.
Last year, the airline had indicated as many as 1,400 employees might be laid off locally due to restructuring following its November 2011 bankruptcy filing. The actual number was about 400, the airline said; most of those were agents and maintenance workers. Many of those jobs were shifted to outside contractors, for a total net gain of 250 workers in the region, Torno said.
Applicants for the newly announced jobs must be 18 years or older, have a GED or high school diploma and be located within a 75-mile radius from Miami International Airport. Candidates will begin a seven-week training process on March 18 in Miami. Information and applications are available at http://www.aacareers.com
Since August, AMR and US Airways have been engaged in merger discussions. A decision on whether they will proceed is expected by the end of January.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.