Compass Lexecon Client American Airlines, Inc. Obtains Permanent Injunction Against Mechanics’ Union

Federal Court Relies Heavily on Testimony of Compass Lexecon Expert Dr. Darin N. Lee

On August 12, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge John H. McBryde of the Northern District of Texas issued Compass Lexecon’s client, American Airlines, Inc. (“American” or the “Company”), a permanent injunction against the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO (“TWU”) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (together with the TWU, the “Union”) for failing to exert every reasonable effort to prevent and stop an illegal slowdown campaign by their American mechanic members. Judge McBryde’s decision relied heavily on the expert reports and trial testimony of Compass Lexecon’s Executive Vice President Darin N. Lee.

This case stems from a years-long and ongoing negotiation effort between American and the Union for a joint collective bargaining agreement covering the Company’s mechanics. Both parties are subject to the Railway Labor Act, which during negotiation forbids parties from changing their status quo behavior and engaging in self-help mechanisms to force a contract.
Beginning in February 2019—in and around the same time that the Union began to ratchet up its rhetoric about obtaining a favorable contract—American began to experience a decline in overnight work productivity from its Union-represented mechanics. Several other maintenance-related metrics heavily influenced by mechanic behavior started to exhibit atypical changes. For example, the number of aircraft unexpectedly deemed “out of service” coming out of routine overnight maintenance by 7:00 a.m. began to increase dramatically. Moreover, beginning in March, American’s mechanics began to volunteer less overall for various types of overtime opportunities. At the same time, American began to experience increased operational disruption with elevated numbers of maintenance-related cancellations and prolonged delays.

American retained Dr. Lee to analyze various mechanic- and maintenance-related metrics to determine whether the observed changes could be attributed to a concerted change in behavior by the Company’s mechanics. Dr. Lee submitted multiple reports and testified at trial, opining that mechanics had indeed been working slower than usual and restricting their work product. Dr. Lee further opined that the cumulative effect of mechanics’ behavioral changes had led to statistically significant increases in maintenance-related cancellations and delays, which was indicative of a concerted slowdown to disrupt American’s operations.

Following a July 2019 trial, on August 12, 2019, Judge McBryde issued a concise opinion rejecting as “implausible” the Union’s expert’s analysis, which purported to demonstrate that the observed changes were due to exogenous events such as a CBS news report that allegedly incited mechanics to work more slowly as a safety precaution, noting that:

Defendants could have refuted [Dr. Lee’s analysis] by arguing that Lee failed to consider some other factor that could also explain the slowdown, but they failed to do anything of the sort. Their criticisms instead reflect a misunderstanding of statistics and Dr. Lee’s analysis.

Instead, Judge McBryde relied heavily on Dr. Lee’s statistical analysis in finding the mechanics to be the “culprit” of the slowdown, reacting to “heated, years-long contract negotiations that eventually reached a boiling point.” Following Judge McBryde’s ruling, the Union and its American mechanic members are permanently enjoined from continuing the slowdown and are under specific orders to return behavior to status quo.

Dr. Lee was assisted by a team in Compass Lexecon’s Boston office that included Eric Amel, Erin Secatore, Mu Liu, Becca Raffel, Manavi Sharma and Doug Schwartz. The consulting team was led by Eric Amel and Erin Secatore.

Compass Lexecon worked closely with counsel from O’Melveny & Myers LLP, including Robert Siegel, Mark W. Robertson, Sloane Ackerman, Rachel S. Janger and Charles J. Mahoney who successfully represented American.