Maintenance worker unions at American Airlines and US Airways have settled a key issue in the two companies’ merger, agreeing on a method for determining seniority among employees.

Workers will be placed in order according to the date they hired into a classification when the airlines merge, giving them more certainty on such issues as pay, promotions, scheduling, vacation priority and who keeps their jobs in the event of layoffs.

With American and US Airways set to merge by the end of September, the airlines are trying to figure out just how to integrate nearly 100,000 employees. But unions set rules on seniority, and it can be one of the thornier issues as the nearly 15,000 maintenance workers at the two companies get set to work together.

According to the agreement, seniority will be based on “the date of each employee’s entry into the basic classification.”

If workers were hired into their classification on the same date, seniority will be based on date of hire into the company; if those dates are still the same, there will be a more random set of criteria — the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, with the lower number getting priority.

“The agreement will also set the stage for a successful merger, long-term job security and quality customer service at the new American Airlines,” said Robert Gless, deputy director of the Transport Worker Union’s Air Transport Division, in a statement Monday.

The agreement sets up a more orderly integration of the maintenance workers at the two airlines and tries to avoid one group of workers being pushed around by a dominant group.

The TWU at American Airlines has about 11,000 employees, and the International Association of Machinists at US Airways has just 4,000.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has asked the two unions representing mechanics not to engage in a bitter battle over seniority in an attempt to gain advantage over the opposing union.

“I am concerned that the failure of two AFL-CIO unions to avoid winner-takes-all procedures will result in lengthy, contentious and bitter campaigns to determine which of your two organizations represent various classes and crafts of employees at the post-merger carrier,” Trumka wrote in a letter to the TWU and IAM last week.

Of course, the two unions are competing to represent more than 11,000 maintenance workers at the two companies post-merger. The heated fight includes two other union groups trying to force a representation election at American Airlines before the merger even happens.

Trumka is asking the TWU and IAM to share representation rights and suggested splitting their memberships along pre-merger lines.

“This approach seems to me the only one which will avoid either union feeling that it is being or has been raided and will generate the kind of harmony we need for acting together in labor’s best interest,” Trumka said in the letter.

Based on their union’s size, American Airlines maintenance workers could have bullied their counterparts at US Airways and grabbed a more favorable seniority outcome.

That’s the kind of scenario that has divided pilots at US Airways since the carrier merged with American West in 2005.

Former America West pilots never integrated with US Airways pilots because they feared domination by their larger counterpart.

For pilots at American and US Airways, the issue is even more crucial because of the unconventional work schedule for the group. Seniority for pilots also determines important issues such as routes and scheduling days off.

Since 2005, the former America West pilots have maintained a separate union.

What’s ahead in American Airlines-US Airways merger

June 20: Deadline for American Airlines to gather support for bankruptcy reorganization.

July 29: Deadline for AMR stakeholders to vote on reorganization plan

Aug. 15: Hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane to approve the plan of reorganization

Sept. 30: AMR Corp. and US Airways Inc. officials hope to finish merger by end of third quarter

(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Tags: labor