February 27, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, New York — Airline passengers in nearly 10 cities around the country — including those at LaGuardia Airport — saw Teamsters mechanics take to the picket line this week, in angry opposition to company plans to shrink wages and benefits and eventually outsource all wide-body maintenance overseas.
Allen Cosides, a member of the Teamsters’ negotiating team, told LaborPress on Friday that he believes United Airlines execs are attempting to use CEO Oscar Munoz’ health issues to rollback three years of contract negotiations with the union.
The dispute is now in the hands of the National Mediation Board after mechanics last week overwhelmingly rejected United’s “take it or leave it” proposal with the highest “no“nvote ever – and officially authorized a strike. Those inclined to support the company's offer were thought to be retirees swayed by United’s $100,000 buyout package.
The Labor Railway Act actually makes the likelihood of a strike remote — but Cosides said that this week’s preliminary job actions were intended to prod Munoz to get his troops back to the bargaining table, where the union is confident an equitable resolution can still be reached.
“Let’s get back to the table; we can settle this,” Cosides said.
Negotiations between management and mechanics reportedly fell apart last October when United — arguably the world’s largest airline — abruptly announced that it was done negotiating, and demanded that the Teamsters’ negotiating team take their final offer back to mechanics for approval.
“We tried to tell them that some of the things [in the offer], our guys are not going to go for,” Cosides said. “But they didn’t want to hear it.”
The union says that it is seeking an “industry-leading contract” and a little respect — while United Airlines is attempting to bamboozle members by offering some money – but then "taking it away everywhere else.”
“That’s what they want,” Cosides said. “They want to reduce our wages, and they want to outsource our work.”
The mechanics maintain that they took “haircuts” when the company was struggling in the decade prior, and should be compensated now that United has enough to spend billions of dollars in stock buybacks.
“It’s time, after billions of dollars in profit, they share it with the people that helped make it possible,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda told LaborPress.
United Airlines emerged from bankruptcy in 2006, after terminating employee pensions and promising to make workers whole again with profit sharing when the good times returned.
“Now United is earning record profits and spending billions to buy back stock, yet it is slashing mechanics’ profit sharing by two-thirds and offering mechanics only a 73-cent-per-hour net wage increase annually,” said Capt. David Bourne, director of the Teamsters Airline Division.
United Airlines has not responded to requests for comment – but Cosides said that a tour of the company’s overhaul facilities in Houston conducted last year, revealed that regular inspections were taking longer due to the exorbitant amount of issues mechanics were encountering.
“The stuff that they’re finding when they take these airplanes apart hasn’t been done in I don’t know how many cycles,” he said. “What [United Airlines] wants to do now, is take this work over to China, Korea or wherever overseas — and reduce it even more. We’re being accused of not doing it as quick as they are.”
Cosides further insists that United maintenance bays in San Francisco are currently underutilized.
Despite the divide, Teamsters mechanics are confident that a resolution to the three-year-old dispute can soon be found.
“If Oscar [Munoz] gets involved and everyone gets on board, we can settle this by June or July,” Cosides said.