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United Cancels 10 Flights Out of LAX

Labor: Airline attributes grounded planes to possible illegal job action by mechanics seeking contract.

November 16, 2000|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

United Airlines canceled 10 flights at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday over what it says was a possible illegal job action by mechanics seeking a new contract with the nation's No. 1 air carrier.

Airline spokesman Chris Brathwaite said he didn't know the specific cause of the local cancellations but said they were among at least 81 United flights grounded systemwide Wednesday, 74 due to reported mechanical problems. Brathwaite didn't have the breakdown on causes for cancellations at specific airports.

Typically, he said, the Chicago-based airline tries to limit cancellations on its daily schedule of 2,300 flights to 45.

Wednesday's cancellations followed 99 on Tuesday, 83 of which were due to reported mechanical problems. Eight departures were canceled out of LAX, United's fourth-largest hub.

The airline believes mechanics are intentionally grounding flights for unneeded repairs because the rate of cancellations due to "mechanical operations" has been higher than normal over the last few days, Brathwaite said. Mechanics also are reportedly refusing to work overtime.

Contract talks between the airline and the International Assn. of Mechanics, whose labor agreement came up for renewal in July, already have broken down twice this month. Negotiations are set to resume Monday before federal mediators.

The mechanics are seeking raises similar to the average 24% wage hikes given pilots.

The mechanics' union has denied that an organized job action is occurring, saying its members repeatedly have been advised not to participate in any such action and have even been encouraged to work overtime at the employee-owned airline.

The airline calls the alleged job action illegal because it violates provisions of the federal law that United says requires transportation workers to continue to perform their jobs as they normally would during contract talks.

Though the cancellation rate is far short of the chaos that ensnared the world's largest airline last summer during a contract standoff with pilots, it is a troubling development just ahead of the heavy holiday travel period. United is still scrambling to win back customers it lost in the earlier labor turmoil.

United's chief operating officer, Andy Studdert, accused the mechanics of causing "serious operational problems" in a letter sent Friday to Scotty Ford, chief negotiator for the union representing 44,000 United mechanics.

Ford fired back an angry letter Tuesday, saying he resented the airline's "attempt to threaten and intimidate this union and its members during these negotiations."

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