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American Labor Leaders Visit Analysts

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Labor leaders representing American Airlines > (AMR) mechanics and fleet service workers were visiting Wall Street analysts Thursday and Friday to tell their side of the story.

"Analysts love to get all the information they can get," said Bob Owens, president of Transport Workers Union Local 562, which represents about 800 American mechanics and stock clerks at New York's Kennedy, LaGuardia, Boston's Logan and San Juan airports. "They appreciated the fact we could give them information that is not readily available."

TWU leaders Bob Owens and Dave Virella

Owens and Dave Virella, president of TWU Local 501, which represents about 1,600 fleet service workers, called on a half dozen analysts.

Owens questioned American's frequent assertions that its labor costs are higher than other carriers'. He said American mechanics are in the middle of the pack on pay and that even if relative costs rise in the near term, they will fall as other carriers negotiate new contracts.

Moreover, Owens noted that American, unlike most of its competitors, eschews outsourcing and maintains its own aircraft. Therefore, he said, other carriers do not account for aircraft maintenance as a labor expense. "They put the cost elsewhere," he said. "That doesn't mean they don't do the work." American continues to negotiate with its mechanics.

American has said that its overall labor costs are about $600 million higher than an average of its competitors' costs, and that -- unlike most competitors -- it continues to offer a defined benefit pension plan.

The carrier "continues to perform over 90% of its maintenance in-house, far more than any other airline, [which] means we employ significantly more mechanics and related personnel, providing jobs with good pay and benefits to U.S. workers while other carriers have shipped jobs overseas," said spokesperson Susan Gordon.

Virella said that while he now represents about 1,600 workers, he represented about 2,200 in 2008. Despite the staffing reductions, he said, "we are doing the same volume of work. In fact, the schedule has grown by 17 flights.

"We have a story about our sacrifices and about the value we bring to the table," he said.

Gordon said that American "always adjusts our staffing to meet flight schedule needs" and noted that the carrier is seeking, in negotiations with the TWU, "to craft contracts that keep its members among the most highly compensated in the industry and provides American a sustainable cost structure."

Virella said the TWU is reaching out to international labor groups to insure that workers at American are able to act in concert with workers at the Oneworld partners. Next month, leaders of the TWU and the London-based International Transport Workers' Federation, which represents transport workers around the world, will discuss their mutual interests at a Washington, D.C. gathering.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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