O’Melveny’s Sky-High Winning Streak for Airline Clients

Courts Rule That Unions and Employees Must Not Disrupt Commerce During Collective Bargaining Process

O’Melveny’s Aviation group has racked up a series of significant wins for American Airlines and Atlas Air, Inc. in cases with industry-wide implications, achieving victories that protected the two airlines’ business operations.

The latest came in August 2019 as the firm won at trial and obtained a permanent injunction requiring American’s mechanics unions to end their unlawful work stoppage. In this case, a Texas federal judge enjoined American’s mechanics unions from engaging in an illegal work slowdown that has resulted in thousands of flight cancellations and delays. The order followed a trial on the merits held six weeks after O’Melveny filed the suit against the unions.

The judge agreed with American that the unions were using an illegal work “slowdown” to put pressure on the airline in these ongoing contract negotiations. “The concerted job action of defendants' members has caused flight delays and cancellations, inconveniencing the public and disrupting commerce," the judge wrote. The injunction will require the unions to do everything in their power to stop the ongoing disruption to American’s operations.

Just one month earlier, O’Melveny prevailed for Atlas Airlines before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The court affirmed a district court’s issuance of a preliminary injunction prohibiting the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and its member pilots from engaging in any slowdown activities designed to give the union greater leverage in ongoing collective bargaining negotiations.

In both cases, the carriers argued and the courts found that the unions illegally instigated a concerted slowdown that disrupted commerce for the improper purpose of imposing leverage on collective bargaining negotiations — in violation of the Railway Labor Act’s prohibition on actions that interrupt commerce while bargaining for labor contracts.

The important principle upheld by these courts is of significance to the airline industry, which frequently encounters operational disruption by unions seeking leverage during bargaining. The courts emphatically confirmed that the unions and employees must maintain the “status quo” during the bargaining process.

And, in the space of just four days in June, O’Melveny:

  • Prevailed in the Ninth Circuit for American Airlines, with a three-judge panel agreeing with our argument that airline employees cannot bring a claim of collusion against a carrier for “colluding” with a union that breached its duty of fair representation to its members. This decision is significant because it represents the first full analysis at the appellate level as to whether there is a cause of action against carriers for collusion in a union’s breach of duty of fair representation.
  • Won another significant victory for American Airlines when the Fifth Circuit affirmed an earlier district court dismissal of a lawsuit filed by four of its pilots against the airline claiming that the seniority integration agreement developed under the 2001 merger between American and TWA Airways was breached in bad faith.

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