David Koenig, The Associated Press, August 23, 2012
DALLAS (AP) — The pilot's union says it will hold a strike vote if American Airlines throws out its labor contract in bankruptcy court.
The Allied Pilots Association said Wednesday that voting could start as soon as American tries to impose its own terms for pay and work rules.
A hearing on American's request to cancel the pilots' contract is scheduled for Sept. 4.
Federal law makes it difficult for airline unions to legally strike. In 2007, a federal appeals court blocked a planned strike by flight attendants at Northwest Airlines after the airline threw out the union's contract as part of its bankruptcy case.
Union spokesman Gregg Overman said pilots would strike only if they had legal permission from the National Mediation Board, but Wednesday's declaration showed labor's resolve.
"Our pilots are looking to us for leadership to resist any move by management to reject our contract," Overman said. He said the union still wants to negotiate with the company.
AMR Corp.'s American did not immediately comment on the union statement. However, the airline has given no indication that it will resume negotiations before next month's hearing in front of a federal bankruptcy judge in New York.
American is trying to slash annual labor costs by about $1 billion and return AMR to profitability after it lost more than $10 billion since 2001. American won concessions in new contracts covering about 40,000 ground workers and flight attendants.
But American's 8,000 active pilots risked even deeper cost-cutting measures by rejecting a company offer this month. American's first attempt to nullify the pilots' contract was denied by the judge on two narrow issues. The company changed those items and asked the judge again for permission to throw out the pilots' contract.
Bankruptcy law lets companies escape union contracts if they convince a judge that it's necessary for their success. That's what Northwest did with flight attendants, who responded by threatening to strike. A federal appeals court in New York ruled that the flight attendants were "intransigent" despite Northwest's need to cut costs and that the airline had a right under bankruptcy law to throw out the contract.