By D.R. Stewart--
An early-retirement incentive program offered by bankrupt American Airlines to members of the Transport Workers Union has been accepted by just over 2,800 workers companywide and will reduce planned layoffs significantly, union and company officials said Thursday.
In Tulsa, 709 mechanics, plant maintenance and logistics specialists at American's Maintenance & Engineering Center elected to take the early-retirement option, which includes a severance payment of $39,000. About 5,000 mechanics and related workers are employed at the base, and 7,000 people overall.
TWU executives said the early retirements are expected to reduce TWU layoffs companywide to 1,800, including fewer than 500 mechanics and related workers. That figure is down from 2,400 mechanics and related workers that American said would be laid off in August and 8,650 TWU layoffs proposed in the company's March term sheet.
American spokesman Bruce Hicks said the company is pleased that the early retirements will significantly reduce layoffs.
"Between the gains we made with the ratified contracts and the voluntary separation programs, we have dramatically reduced the number of people who will involuntarily leave the company," Hicks said. "The efforts of the company and the TWU have been very successful."
TWU International President James Little said the early-retirement program and other negotiated agreements will lessen the disruption among American workers while helping the company toward a viable reorganization plan.
"Every single layoff means pain for our members and their families, and nobody is happy with how this company has manipulated the bankruptcy process," Little said.
"We continue to believe there are much better ways to restructure this business than to lay off workers and cut back service. But the fact is we reduced by 80 percent the number of job cuts AMR management originally demanded."
In August, before the early-retirement option was offered, American executives said if contract agreements were ratified by the TWU, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the Allied Pilots Association, the company would lay off 10,400 people companywide, including 770 mechanics and 90 stock clerks in Tulsa.
The TWU and the APFA ratified their contracts, but the APA rejected its offer. Contract negotiations are expected to begin shortly between the company and the pilots, officials said.
Under terms of the negotiated agreement between American and the TWU, union workers could elect the early-out option until Sept. 25, after which there was a five-day revocation period when workers could withdraw their names from the program.
In the M&R and stock clerk work groups, 1,564 workers elected the early-out option. In the fleet service work groups, 1,250 workers took early retirement, which yielded the TWU early- retirement total of 2,814 workers, TWU officials said.
The retirements will reduce the need for layoffs at American by a corresponding number of positions, company and TWU officials said.
"That's what workers can accomplish when we stand united, keep our options open and work together on an aggressive plan to protect our members," Little said. "There's a reason workers all over this country are standing up for the right to collective bargaining. It makes a real difference in the lives of working men and women."
American executives said the company must reduce labor costs by $1.06 billion a year, increase annual revenue by $1 billion and restructure its operations to emerge from bankruptcy and compete successfully in the airline industry.
During the past decade, as every major U.S. airline filed for bankruptcy, American's parent AMR Corp. lost more than $10 billion.
AMR filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors on Nov. 29, listing assets of $24.7 billion and debt of $29.6 billion.