American, going against the tide of US carriers outsourcing aircraft maintenance to hangers in Mexico and Central America, has discovered a new partner in reducing costs and creating efficiencies: their own mechanics’ union, Transport Workers Local 514.

The only US airline that has not sent its jets to foreign hangars is American – they’ve continued to send them to their maintenance hangers in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Wade Goodwyn at NPR told this story on the air on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

American’s maintenance crews have reduced the time an MD-80 spends in the hanger on what’s called a “heavy check” from 22 days to 12. Just in case you’re thinking that means they threw almost 1,000 people at the job, they didn’t. They’ve reduced the heavy-check crew from 700 to just over 300.

Good work, less time, fewer man-hours. Sounds like a business plan instead of a union work-rule, doesn’t it? Which is what gives me hope that trades unions in this country might enjoy a renaissance, with the highly educated and skilled workforce we still have in the US using those smarts and skills to create, and keep, good work for themselves.

What I love about the American Airlines story is this: it looks like there are still smart people in unions. I’ve wondered what had happened to the movement that fought so hard in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to make factory, construction, and agricultural work fit for human beings. Trust me, kids – at that time, in this country, it wasn’t. Read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle if you have any questions.

The members of TW Local 514 have seen what’s happened to the rest of the wrench brigade in the US, who until the ’80s saw regular increases in wages along with a strong union membership base. The wasteland that is the skilled labor market in this country has virtual tumbleweeds rolling slowly down its dusty main streets – most of their jobs have been moved offshore to factories and machine shops where a good daily wage is, at best, one-quarter of what it is here.

But I digress. In my view, most unions had become anachronisms by the mid-20th century, after becoming fiefdoms for their leadership and what amounted to private wage-setting clubs for their members. If you disagree with me, I have two words for you: Jimmy Hoffa.

This story gives me hope that, with all the amazing new product ideas being born in basements, labs, garages, and corner suites across this country, there is likely  enough sense between the ears of the skilled labor pool to want to bring those ideas to life. To look at what’s happening today as an investment in tomorrow, and probably next week, too.

A girl can hope. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

Looking for the Union Label in the 21st Century
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