Judge delays imposing heavy fines against American Airlines pilots

The federal judge who ruled last weekend that the Allied Pilots Association was in contempt of court and subject to millions of dollars in fines for the job action by American Airlines pilots decided Wednesday to delay penalizing the union until at least April 12.

The day before, the union turned over $10 million, or one-quarter of its assets, to the court in preparation for a larger "eight-figure" fine US District Judge Elton "Joe" Kendall had threatened to impose Wednesday.

The job action has ended but there is enormous anger among pilots, particularly at American's Miami and New York bases, the center of last week's job action. Several pilots interviewed by the media indicated that they would continue to refuse to fly extra flights beyond the 78 hours each month to which they are contractually bound.

One pilot, interviewed by the New York Times, said, "I'm really angry at the company right now. My personal feeling is that I'm going to work to rule and I'm not going to fly any overtime now."

Judge Kendall, who had launched a tirade against the pilots last Saturday, appeared cautious about further provoking them and more willing to rely on the union officials to stifle further protests. "It's time to cool down and take the loaded guns away from each other's heads," he told representatives of the company and union Wednesday.

At the same time the judge ruled that the temporary restraining order he issued last week ordering the pilots to end their sick-out will remain in effect through May 10.

In response to a probable overtime ban, American, the nation's number two airline, announced that beginning next month the airline would reduce the number of scheduled flights by a few dozen each day.

The 10-day job action, which escaped the control of the APA leadership, resulted in the cancellations of 6,000 flights affecting some 600,000 passengers. Pilots were angered over American's repeated violation of the contract, particularly its use of lower-paid flight crews from newly acquired Reno Air while American pilots remain on layoff.

At Wednesday's hearing the APA leadership asked Kendall to delay the imposition of fines, saying the union needed more time to rebut the carrier's damage claims. The airline's lawyer, Dee Kelly, urged the judge to proceed with the massive fines. "Even if the airline is running normal, we think the union should share in the pain," he said.

Doug Herring, vice president and controller for American, told the judge the carrier has lost an estimated $58.7 million in revenue from the time he issued his back-to-work order until last Saturday's hearing. He added that the entire job action had cost American $150 million.

Negotiations between the company and the union continued Tuesday for the first time since last Thursday. American said it offered to immediately increase pay up to 56 percent for pilots from Reno Air, which was purchased by American's parent company, AMR, in December. American also said it would shorten the overall period for training and integrating both airline operations and pilots.

But APA President Rich LaVoy said union negotiators said American's proposal was unacceptable because the contract stipulated that pay raises had to be retroactive to the day Reno was purchased. Reno pilots are paid as little as half of what American pilots earn.