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American Airlines, Inc. v. Transport Workers Union of America

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

August 12, 2019




         Came on for consideration the above-captioned action wherein American Airlines, Inc. is plaintiff and Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO ("TWU"}, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers ("IAM"), and Airline Mechanic and Related Employee Association TWU/IAM (the "Association") are defendants. In its complaint, plaintiff prayed for a permanent injunction against defendants. The court, having considered the pleadings, evidence, post-trial briefs, and record, finds that such relief should be granted and a permanent injunction basically in the form of plaintiff's proposed permanent injunction should be entered against defendants.



         On May 20, 2019, plaintiff initiated this action by filing its complaint. Doc.[1] 1. Plaintiff alleged: To gain leverage in contract negotiations, defendants' members changed their behavior in a concerted fashion by, for example, taking an unusual amount of time to repair aircraft and refusing to work overtime and take maintenance field trips[2] to repair aircraft. Id. at 2, ¶ 2 & 3, ¶ 4. The concerted slowdown is causing flight delays and cancellations. Id. at 3, ¶5. Defendants failed to take any steps to stop the concerted behavior; in fact, they have encouraged it. Id. at 4, ¶ 8.

         Plaintiff brought a single cause of action against defendants for violation of Section 2, First of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 152, First, and requested a preliminary and permanent injunction enforcing defendants' duties under that statute. Id. at 29-34. On May 21, 2019, plaintiff filed a motion for preliminary injunction, and, by order signed the same day, the court advised the parties that it intended to combine the hearing on the motion with the trial on intended to combine the hearing on the motion with the trial on the merits. Docs. 17, 24. Plaintiff then moved on June 14, 2019, for entry of a temporary restraining order, which the court entered the same day (the "TRO"). Docs. 58, 65. The court ultimately held the combined trial on July 1, 2019. On July 10, 2019, plaintiff requested that the court enter a modified TRO based on its allegation that defendants failed to comply with the original TRO, and the court entered a modified TRO the same day (the "modified TRO"). Docs. 108, 111.

         II. Findings of Fact[3]

         Based on the evidence and the record, the court makes the following findings of fact:

         A. History and Nature of the Parties' Dispute

1. Plaintiff is a "common carrier by air" as defined in the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 and a "carrier" as defined by the RLA. Doc. 75 at 9, ¶ 1.
2. Plaintiff, in its current form, is the product of a merger between plaintiff and U.S. Airways, Inc. ("US Airways"). Id. at ¶ 2.
3. Plaintiff employs mechanics and related employees who support them. Id. at 9-10, ¶ 3.
4. Before the merger, TWU represented plaintiff's mechanics and related employees, and IAM represented
5. those of U.S. Airways. Id. at 10, ¶ 4. After the merger, TWU and IAM formed the Association to represent the combined set of employees. Id.
6. The collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") between the pre-merger companies and TWU and IAM currently govern the pay rates, rules, and working conditions for plaintiff's mechanics and related employees. Id. at 11, ¶ 7.
7. In 2015, plaintiff and the Association began negotiating new CBAs to cover the mechanics and related employees represented by the Association. Id. at ¶ 9. The parties held their last CBA negotiating session on April 23-25, 2019. Id. at 13, ¶ 20.
8. On February 4, 2019, CBS News aired a news segment (the "CBS News report") in which a reporter interviewed airline mechanics who claimed to feel pressured not to report safety concerns. Ex. 170.
9. TWU Local 591 represents about 3, 600 of plaintiff's mechanics and related employees. Doc. 75 at 18, ¶ 47. On February 4, 2019, it released a letter to its membership stating, "[plaintiff] needs to hear loud and clearly from this membership that the time to deliver the best contract is NOW!" (the "February 4 letter"). Id. at 12, ¶ 13; ex. 4.
10. IAM District Lodge 142 is an intermediate-level IAM affiliate that represents legacy mechanics and related employees of U.S. Airways. Doc. 75 at 17, ¶ 38. Its president and general chairman, David Supplee, distributed on March 8, 2019, a letter on Association letterhead calling for members to "stop all voluntary actions" (the "March 8 letter") . Ex. 7; ex.. 62 at 11-12, ¶¶ 29-30.
11. On March 21, 2019, plaintiff sent to certain TWU and IAM officials a letter requesting that the Association rescind the March 8 letter and instruct its members to return to normal practices and otherwise maintain the status quo. Doc. 75 at 16, ¶ 3 5; ex. 9.
12. The Association responded on March 26, 2019, by sending plaintiff a letter denying that the March 8 letter was an Association communication or directive and explaining that it took down the letter. Doc. 75 at 16, ¶ 36; ex. 11.

         B. Discussion and Further Fact Findings

         The parties stipulated to a list of factual issues in their June 18, 2019 joint pretrial order under the heading "Agreed List of the Ultimate Issues of Fact . . . ." Doc. 75 at 19. On June 28, 2019, the court issued a memorandum opinion setting forth conclusions of law as to certain of the legal issues stipulated in the same pretrial order.[4] Doc. 100. Considering those conclusions, it is unnecessary to resolve issues of fact numbers l.a, 2, and 3. The pertinent portions of the rest of the issues read as follows:

1. Whether the Defendants' members have changed their normal working behavior on a concerted basis in a manner that violates Section 2, First of the RLA resulting in a disruption to Plaintiff's operations and/or interstate commerce? . . .
1.b . . . [I]f Defendants have a legal obligation under Section 2, First of the RLA to take all reasonable measures to stop concerted activity by their members even if Defendants have not participated in, authorized or ratified it, have they done so?
4. If Plaintiff is required to demonstrate that injunctive relief is the only practical and effective means of enforcing the Defendants' obligations under Section 2, First of the RLA, has it done so?
5. Whether the requested injunction would disserve the public interest?

Doc. 75 at 19.

         The court makes the following findings as to the proper answers to those factual issues:

Factual Issue No, 1 ("Whether the Defendants' members have changed their normal working behavior on a concerted basis in a manner that violates Section 2, First of the RLA resulting in a disruption to Plaintiff's operations and/or interstate commerce?"):

         1. Concerted Activity

         Defendants' members have reduced their normal working behavior in a concerted manner. Plaintiff's data indicate that they volunteered for less work in recent months. Specifically, the percentage of field trips with no volunteers increased dramatically at certain airports after the dissemination of the March 8 letter. Ex. 45 at 56-57, ¶ 55. Mechanics at certain airports accomplished, on average, less routine overnight maintenance work per day, and deferred more such work, beginning in January 2 019. Ex. 53 at. 12.[5] And, the following key measurements increased above historical norms starting February 4, 2019, the date of the February 4 letter: (1) the daily number of outstanding minimum equipment list issues ("MELs")- maintenance issues temporarily deferred by mechanics that, if left unfixed, may result in the pulling of an aircraft out of service-and (2) the daily number of unscheduled aircraft out of service ("AOS") at 7:00-a.m. Ex. 45 at 26-30, ¶¶ 25-28 & 44-47, ¶¶ 42-44; see also tr. 32:23-25 & 33:1-6. In addition, the proportion of MELs being resolved after eight days increased above historical norms starting in February 2019. Ex. 53 at 14. In short, plaintiff's mechanics, whom defendants represent, are deferring more work than they used to.

         Those trends are not the result of coincidence or anything else that could reasonably explain the slowdown in productivity. To eliminate that possibility, plaintiff's expert, Darin Lee ("Lee"), conducted a regression analysis[6] that measured the degree to which the alleged slowdown can be explained, all else being equal, by whether those measurements-the daily number of outstanding MELs and unscheduled AOS at 7:00 a.m.-were observed after the occurrence of certain of the above-mentioned communications or events in the parties' dispute.[7] Lee also controlled for other factors that are known to impact those measurements, including the number of maintenance-related issues found by pilots ("pilot write-ups") and the daily number of scheduled mainline departures. Ex. 45 at 32-33, ¶¶ 31-32 & 48, ¶ 46; ex. 46 at 17.[8] The regressions, in a nutshell, show a statistically significant (i.e., not random) increase in the daily number of outstanding MELs and unscheduled AOS at 7:00 a.m. after each of those communications and events, even when everything else that could reasonably explain those trends is held constant. Ex. 45 at 36-37, ¶ 35 & 49-50, ¶ 48; ex. 46 at 17.[9] It is reasonable to conclude that plaintiff's mechanics are the culprit. Mechanics can decrease plaintiff's productivity by reducing the amount of work they accomplish. Tr. 29:22-23. They can, for example, take longer to troubleshoot an aircraft or research the parts necessary to complete a project. Tr. 30:1-7. It follows that the only reasonable explanation for the slowdown is concerted action on the part of plaintiff's mechanics and related employees.

         Defendants could have refuted those facts by arguing that Lee failed to consider some other factor that could also explain the slowdown, but they failed to do. anything of the sort. Their criticisms instead reflect a misunderstanding of statistics and Lee's analysis. They argued that the increase in the daily number of outstanding MELs was due primarily to an increase in pilot write-ups. Doc. 125 at 3. Lee controlled for that, however; his analysis shows an increase in the daily number of outstanding MELs even holding pilot write-ups constant. Defendants also contended that plaintiff has more flights in the summertime, which can cause an increase in mechanical problems, thereby suggesting that season or departure volume might have caused the increase. See id. at 2 n.2. Lee controlled for that, too.[10] Defendants also observed that the time it takes to complete an assigned task varies based on aircraft and equipment conditions. Id. Lee controlled for those factors as well.[11] They, vaguely hinted that the random differences from job to job (specifically, the tools available and the time at which the task was assigned) might have caused the slowdown. See id. But, the regression results essentially rule out random chance as a cause of the slowdown. Defendants also suggested that the CBS News report may have caused the slowdown. Id. at 12; see also ex. 88 at 21-23, ¶¶ 61-62. Defendants did not allege where that story was published or aired or how many people saw it. In any case, the notion that a seven-minute news story caused the entire slowdown is implausible. It is substantially more likely that it was caused by heated, years-long contract negotiations that eventually reached a boiling point.[12]

         Nor does anything else in the record suggest that something else could have caused the slowdown. As stated, Lee controlled for everything that could reasonably explain the slowdown. And, there were no changes in plaintiff's maintenance program or operations that could explain the decline in productivity. Tr. 29:8-19, 38:9-12 & 44:15-21. Plaintiff has made no change in recent months in how much overtime it offers or how it pays overtime. Id. at 41:5-8. Nor has ...

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