Friday, August 28, 2009

Judge: American Airlines pilots' union cannot advise members to avoid overtime

by B. N. Sullivan

Allied Pilots AssnEarlier today, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents the pilots at American Airlines, announced a ruling by federal appeals court Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. that the union would be violating the Railway Labor Act if it encouraged its members not to volunteer for overtime flying. The APA had requested a ruling on the issue in August of 2008, after American Airlines warned the union it might furlough up to 200 pilots.

In his ruling, the judge expressed uncertainty about the impact that such an action by the union would have on the carrier's operations. An APA message to the union membership explained:
At the core of the court's decision: to rule for APA, the court would have essentially had to speculate about the impact of such actions by our pilots. In reaching its decision, the court acknowledged being influenced by the Eleventh Circuit's 2001 decision against the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) in the Delta Air Lines case and the Seventh Circuit's recent decision against ALPA in the United Airlines case, both of which enjoined open-time campaigns at those airlines.

In addition, the court referenced the Railway Labor Act's charter "to prevent, if possible, wasteful strikes and interruptions of interstate commerce" in determining that a ruling for APA would be inconsistent with that charter.

Conversely, the judge also declined to rule -- as management had sought -- that APA had an improper purpose for initiating an open-time campaign. Management contended that APA was seeking to influence collective bargaining, rather than mitigate furloughs.
At the same time, the judge indicated that there was no prohibition against individual pilots refusing on their own to volunteer for open time, stating, "There is a difference between an individual exercising his or her right under a contract and a union collectively encouraging its members to exercise those individual rights."