United Airlines Seeks to Discipline Mechanics

United Airlines is likely to take disciplinary action against 36 mechanics after over 100 workers called in sick last Sunday and Monday, a United spokesman confirmed today.

As many as 108 mechanics out of approximately 400 working in Los Angeles were suspended for sick calls on Aug. 13 and 14.

The rash of sick calls occurred just as the Democratic National Convention was getting underway. United was the “official” carrier for the convention.

Ironically, the International Association of Mechanics, which represents the United mechanics, has formally endorsed Al Gore for president.

Union Denies Pressure

An IAM spokesman denied there was any organized action by the union, and said its contract talks with the company are progressing.

Most of the workers, originally sent home, have returned to work after being interviewed by United, but the remaining 36 are now on unpaid leave, company spokesman Matt Triaca said.

The International Association of Machinists’ contract calls for the company to go through a formal grievance procedure in which both the company and the union participate. Triaca declined to speculate on what penalty United might ultimately seek to impose on the workers.

In addition, United imposed mandatory overtime for mechanics at its hubs at Chicago’s O’Hare and Washington’s Dulles airports last week. Many mechanics have been refusing overtime, but their contract allows the company to demand that workers take overtime if it declares an emergency situation.

Triaca described the imposition of mandatory overtime as “isolated incidents.”

In the Dulles case, United was hit unexpectedly with three simultaneous Boeing 777 arrivals, and held some people for an extra hour, Triaca said.

In the case of Los Angeles, United was able to divert some aircraft to another facility and the sick calls did not have an impact on customers, Triaca said.

IAM spokesman Frank Larkin said the union believes it is making good progress on contract talks with the company. Most of the issues have been put on the table, allowing the two sides to make complete proposals, he said.

Agreements Come Slowly

Key issues include compensation and job security, especially in light of United’s planned $4.3 billion purchase of US Airways Group Inc.

The mechanics’ contract became amendable about the same time as the pilots’ contract, but the pilots started negotiations with the company much earlier and, unlike the mechanics, are now in federal mediation. Most of United’s schedule reductions have been attributed by the company to the pilots’ refusal to work overtime.

Meanwhile, United negotiators continued to communicate via phone and fax with the pilots’ union over the weekend, after coming to agreement on the second of four key contract sections late last week.

United shares gained 1/16, to 49-11/16, in early afternoon trading today.