About 400 demonstrators picketed in front of American Airline’s Terminal D at Miami International Airport Thursday afternoon, marking the second time the airline’s workers have protested job outsourcing this summer.
The protest, organized by the Transport Workers Union, is the latest in the ongoing saga to settle a new contract between American and its aircraft maintenance and ground support workers. Members from TWU Locals 568 and 591 and other worker unions, including the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and Allied Pilots Association, joined in the demonstration Thursday. Another rally was planned for later in the afternoon.
A similar protest in July at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where American is headquartered, drew more than 1,000 protesters, according to the Dallas Business Journal.
At issue is concern that American is outsourcing 40 percent of its maintenance jobs to China, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America, where labor costs are lower, the union said. TWU points to an announcement from American Airlines that it’s building an aircraft maintenance center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which could eliminate jobs in the U.S. — at least in the long-term.
The union puts the cost of the building the hangar at $100 million, but American said the true cost is $50 million and that all the jobs there will be American Airlines jobs. The airline added that it retains “more aircraft maintenance work in-house than all U.S. operators including our primary competitors.”
“Only a very small portion of our outsourced work is to overseas vendors and that percentage will be even smaller in September when some overseas work ends,” the airline said in a statement.
The union has been embroiled in negotiations with American for about 18 months, said Gary Peterson, president of TWU Local 591, which represents mainly American Airlines maintenance workers around the nation. Peterson estimates that more than 1,000 maintenance jobs in the U.S., most in Dallas, have been lost to outsourced work. Several workers who lost their jobs were offered other positions, many of which are in other states.
The dispute is centered around American’s bankruptcy in 2012 and near bankruptcy in 2003, when in both cases, the union and its workers gave concessions to keep the company afloat, said TWU executive vice president Alex Garcia. But now the company is free of the financial difficulties of the past (profits were $2.7 billion in 2016) and earlier this year, it offered raises for pilots and flight attendants with an average salary increase of 5 to 8 percent in hourly pay.
Now, maintenance workers say, it’s their turn.
American provided its contract proposal to the union in mid-July, the airline said.
“It proposes providing our team members with the highest pay rates in the industry, and keeping more maintenance and fleet service work in-house than any of our major competitors,” American Airlines said. “Offering a comprehensive proposal is usually one of the last steps in the negotiating process, so we are hopeful the Association will respond to our proposal soon.”
But Peterson said the contract American offered continued to include bankruptcy-era concessions, including high medical costs and a provision that some work may be outsourced. The contract is valued at $400 million and impacts more than 30,000 workers, he said.
“We can’t concede any more money,” he said. “It’s totally wrong what they’re asking.”
Peterson said American has already outsourced jobs in the U.S. to vendors who hire foreign workers — many of whom don’t undergo the same background checks and security requirements as U.S. workers — to perform security searches on aircrafts and clean planes.
“It all comes down to safety,” he said. “Without us, safety goes out the window.”
But American refuted the union’s statement, saying maintenance work completed by third-party contractors “will always be subject to American’s and the FAA’s very rigorous safety standards.”