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United Airlines Seeks to Discipline Mechanics

Labor: Most of the workers involved in a wave of sick calls have returned to work, but 36 remain on suspension.

August 22, 2000|From Reuters

UAL Corp.'s United Airlines is seeking disciplinary action against 36 mechanics after more than 100 workers in Los Angeles called in sick last week, a United spokesman confirmed Monday.

As many as 108 of about 400 mechanics working at Los Angeles International Airport were suspended for sick calls on Aug. 13 and 14.

The rash of sick calls has been only one of several factors that have caused United to cancel hundreds of flights this month. To address the problem of airline flight delays and cancellations as travelers take to the skies in record numbers, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater announced Monday formation of a task force to monitor airline service.

Slater said the task force will monitor the carriers and report to him in 90 days.

He also noted that the winding down of the difficult and busy summer season could help matters by reducing the demand for service.

In Los Angeles, the rash of sick calls occurred just as the Democratic National Convention was getting underway. United was the "official" carrier of the convention.

The International Assn. of Machinists, which represents the mechanics, denied there was any organized action by the union, and said its contract talks with the company are progressing.

Most of the mechanics have returned to work after being interviewed by United but 36 are now on unpaid leave, company spokesman Matt Triaca said.

The IAM contract called for the company to go through a formal grievance procedure in which both the company and the union participate. Triaca declined to speculate on what penalty United might seek to impose on the workers.

In addition, United imposed mandatory overtime for mechanics at its hubs at Chicago's O'Hare and Washington Dulles airports last week. Many mechanics have been refusing overtime, but their contract allows the company to demand that workers take overtime if it declares an emergency situation.

Triaca described the imposition of mandatory overtime as "isolated incidents."

In the case of Los Angeles, United was able to divert some aircraft to another facility. Triaca said the sick calls did not have an impact on customers.

However, United has canceled hundreds of flights this month because of bad weather, labor protests, air-traffic-control snags and a record number of travelers.

IAM spokesman Frank Larkin said the union believes it is making progress on contract talks with the company. Most of the issues have been put on the table, allowing the two sides to make complete proposals, he said. Key issues include compensation and job security, especially in light of United's planned $4.3-billion purchase of US Airways Group Inc.

UAL shares fell 94 cents to close at $48.94 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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