D/FW AIRPORT — On Thursday afternoon, the Allied Pilots Association terminated its talks to resume negotiations with American Airlines. Board members likely won't return to the table until next week, at the earliest.
On Wednesday night, the airline threatened the union with legal action over what it considers a work slowdown and sickout that has forced American to cancel some flights and delay many others. AMR, American's parent company, cited growing evidence that some pilots have taken steps to disturb flights.
The union, however, says any manitenance write ups that have forced flights to cancel were made out of an abundance of caution and that there's no organized effort to slow down the airline's operations. It also denies pilots are deliberately calling in sick.
"It's a baseless allegation, we've proven our sick rate has not deviated one percent on either side of our statistical norm," said pilots union spokesman Tom Hoban. "It's just hard to imagine why they would hold a gun at our heads at this point and at the same time say they want to sit down and bargain in good faith."
Before threatening legal action Wednesday, it did appear that progress was being made between the bankrupt airline and a union that had declined to accept the carrier's "last, best and final" contract offer.
The Allied Pilots Association met in executive session for about five hours, and then issued a written statement saying it reaffirmed its support for re-engagement with negotiations.
But on Wednesday night, the airline raised the specter of possible legal action to deal with delays that American blames on flight crews.
A letter sent from Denise Lynn, American Airlines senior vice president, sent to APA national officers and board members confirmed the source's information.
"I am writing to express my concern about mounting evidence that certain pilots are engaging in an unlawful, concerted effort to damage the company," the letter read.
The letter repeated accusations that pilots were intentionally attempting to harm the company as stated by American spokesman Bruce Hicks in a statement issued Wednesday night.
American spokesman Bruce Hicks issued this statement on Wednesday night:
"We do not want to pursue a legal remedy, but we will be left with little alternative if APA does not take action to stop those pilots who are intentionally harming the operation. American's operations have continued to suffer for more than a week now, and we must take the appropriate steps to ensure our customers and our airline are protected."
The statement went on to say that some pilots are "inflicting economic damage on the company," but added that American's goal is to "begin the joint task of finding common ground for a new pilot agreement."
The statement asked officials to denounce any "work actions." She said the pilots' actions alienated passengers and threatened the company's financial prospects just as American parent AMR Corp. is trying to turn itself around after a decade of huge losses.
"I ask that you communicate immediately and unambiguously with your members that such works actions are unlawful and that any individuals engaging in such activities will be subject to both company and APA discipline."
American and its pilots have had a rocky relationship for years, but things came to a head this summer. After pilots rejected a contract proposal designed to save American more than $300 million per year, American won permission from a federal bankruptcy court to impose new pay, benefit and work rules on pilots this month. The airline has about 7,500 active pilots.
Since early September, American's cancellations and delays have far outstripped other U.S. airlines. On Thursday, American had already canceled 90 flights or 4.6 percent of its schedule by late morning. That's more than five times the rate of cancellations the airline had last September.
American's on-time record, which fell below 50 percent some days last week, improved to 73 percent Thursday morning, but that was still far worse than rivals United, Delta, Southwest and US Airways.
Statistics provided by American indicate that the percentage of pilots calling in sick has increased at least 20 percent every month when compared with the same month last year. Delays caused by pilots asking for precautionary maintenance checks have doubled in September, according to airline figures.
American sued the pilots' union and won a $45 million judgment after a sickout led to thousands of canceled flights in 1999. Last September, a federal judge ordered US Airways pilots to end a work slowdown, and another judge ruled in 2008 that United Airlines pilots were conducting an illegal sickout and ordered them to stop.
American and AMR filed for bankruptcy protection in November and are trying to cut annual spending on labor by $1 billion. Other than pilots, American's other union groups approved cost-cutting contracts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report