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Marcoux v. American Airlines

July 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nina Gershon, United States District Judge


Plaintiffs bring this action against Defendants American Airlines, Inc. ("American," or the "Company"), A.M.R. Corporation ("AMR" or, together with American, the "Company Defendants"), the Association of Professional Flight Attendants ("APFA" or the "Union"), and John Ward, in his capacity as President of APFA ("Ward," also included in "APFA" or the "Union"). In light of this court's previous Order, see Marcoux v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14130 (E.D.N.Y. March 28, 2006), remaining against Company Defendants are hybrid claims for breach of the duty of fair representation ("DFR") and violations of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. §§151 et seq.; remaining against APFA are claims for breach of the DFR and breach of the APFA constitution.

All defendants move for summary judgment dismissing the remaining claims. Plaintiffs move for class certification and for summary judgment on all claims except the claim against APFA for breach of the APFA constitution. For the reasons set forth below, the motions for summary judgment filed by Company Defendants and APFA are granted in their entirety; plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is denied, and their motion for class certification is denied as moot.


Unless otherwise indicated, the facts set forth below are undisputed.

American is a "carrier by air" within the meaning of the RLA, 45 U.S.C. § 181. AMR is the publicly-traded parent company of American. At all pertinent times, APFA was the certified and exclusive representative of the class of flight attendants employed by American and is a "labor organization" within the meaning of the RLA. Ward served as President of APFA from April 2000 through August 2004. At all pertinent times, plaintiffs were members of APFA.

I. The 2001 Collective Bargaining Agreement and Events Leading to Negotiation of the Restructuring Participation Agreement

A. Collective Bargaining Between APFA and American Between 1998 and 2001

Between 1998 and 2001, APFA and American engaged in Section 6 negotiations under RLA, 45 U.S.C. § 156.*fn1 In June 2001, on the last day of the "cooling-off" period, APFA and American reached a tentative agreement on the terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (the "2001 CBA"*fn2 ). The tentative agreement provided "industry-leading wages" and working conditions and was ratified by a 96% affirmative vote of the APFA membership, tabulated on September 12, 2001. The CBA was to continue until becoming "amendable" on November 30, 2004.*fn3 Early in 2001, as part of what would come to be known as the "turnaround plan," American responded to financial difficulties by altering its business plan to remain competitive with low-cost carriers.

B. September 11, 2001

As a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the major airlines suffered billions of dollars of losses. American's net loss in 2002 was $3.5 billion and it projected an additional loss of $1 billion in the first quarter of 2003.

Thus, in 2002, after comparing its labor costs to those of its competitors, American developed a cost-cutting strategy relating to its pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and other non-labor sources. American decided it needed to cut labor costs associated with the flight attendant group by $340 million annually to remain competitive. It also identified $2 billion in annual cost reductions that could be obtained through sources other than labor. Notwithstanding these cost-cutting plans, American, during this period, funded a retirement plan providing bankruptcy-protected pension benefits to senior officers. See below Facts § IV.

By letter dated December 6, 2002 from American's then-CEO, Don Carty ("Carty"), and its then-President, Gerard Arpey ("Arpey"), American requested that APFA, as well as the Allied Pilots Association ("APA"), and the Transport Workers Union ("TWU"), the bargaining representative for the Company's mechanics and other ground employees, agree to forgo two upcoming compensation increases provided under the 2001 CBA, namely, a 3% pay increase scheduled to take effect January 1, 2003, and a further increase scheduled to take effect in July 2003. American recognized at the time that, even if APFA agreed to the requested concessions, American's economic turnaround would not be complete. American stated that the concessions were non-negotiable.

In response to American's December 2002 request to forgo pay increases, APFA informed the Company that it would conduct a detailed review of the Company's finances to determine if there was a legitimate need for the relief American sought. APFA retained Mark King as a financial advisor to assist with its review of American's finances. King had assisted the APFA Negotiating Committee in the negotiations that led to the 2001 CBA. By January 1, 2003, however, APFA's financial review had not yet concluded, and the Company implemented the 3% pay increase as required under the 2001 CBA.

C. American's Requests for Labor Concessions and APFA's Initial Response

The Company's financial condition declined in the first quarter of 2003 to a greater extent than previously projected. American was losing cash from operations at the rate of approximately $5 million per day -- nearly $7.5 million per day if capital expenditures and debt service were included, and between $14 and $21 million per day if pension contributions were included.

In early February 2003, the Company made additional demands for cost-saving contractual concessions from each of its unions, including APFA. Specifically, it demanded $1.6 billion in annual "permanent" labor cost reductions, i.e., cost savings of $1.6 billion per year on an ongoing basis, from APFA, the APA, and TWU. Of this amount, the Company indicated that $340 million annually would be required from the flight attendant workforce.

Soon after APFA received American's February 2003 demand for concessions, Ward convened a meeting of the APFA Board of Directors ("BOD") on February 11-12, 2003.*fn4 The BOD "received a thorough briefing and analysis from [its] . . . advisors and a presentation from the APFA Negotiating Committee." Ward Dep. 257-58. On February 12, 2003, the BOD adopted a resolution stating that APFA is committed to the survival of the Company and recognizes the importance to the membership of taking appropriate steps to ensure that the Company is a viable and successful entity which, at the same time, respects the needs and legitimate rights and expectations of its employees and specifically of the American . . . flight attendants.

It further provided for "a comprehensive, multi-faceted plan of action" designed to continue APFA's financial analysis of the Company and prepare for concessionary negotiations that might ensue. The BOD directed "the Negotiating Committee, under the direction of the APFA President, . . . to take all necessary action . . . to be able to expeditiously address varying contingencies." Id. The BOD's "overriding obligation was to . . . best protect the interests of the Flight Attendants." President's Report, Ward Ex. 10.

D. Risk of Bankruptcy

In late February or early March 2003, American CEO Carty informed APFA, at a special APFA BOD meeting, that American would file for bankruptcy protection unless it obtained an agreement from APFA by March 31, 2003 that provided the $340 million in annual cost reductions that American was demanding. American set the same deadline for APA and TWU to reach agreements, in the absence of which the Company would file for bankruptcy.

The APFA BOD met again in the second week of March 2003. At that meeting, it adopted a Resolution dated March 10, 2003 stating, "the best interests of the membership will be served by taking all appropriate action to expeditiously address the Company's financial situation," and directing APFA President Ward and the APFA negotiating team and advisors "to take any and all actions needed to reach a negotiated consensual agreement with American . . . in order to avoid bankruptcy." The BOD adopted this Resolution after receiving "presentations regarding the Company's financial situation and the time constraints from APFA's outside economic consultant, . . . APFA's Standing Negotiating Team," and "representatives of TWU, APA and American Airlines concerning the validity of the [Company's] request [for concessions] . . . ."

To assist APFA in its dealings with American, APFA retained, in addition to King, Leon Potok (another financial advisor), to further assess the Company's financial situation. APFA's advisors reviewed publicly available information and information provided by the Company, consulted with advisors retained by APA and TWU, and conferred with APFA's Negotiating Team, the Union's Officers, and Company representatives. American "made its financial plans and backup information available to [APFA] and to [its] financial advisors . . . to a far greater extent than it ever had done before." President's Report, Ward Ex. 10.*fn5

On February 11, 2003, King advised the APFA negotiating team in a power point presentation that the relief APFA should grant the company should be of a short-term nature because American faced a short-term cash problem. He further advised APFA that, because American was forecasting improvement, "it would be desirable to wait until May or June to determine whether cash relief is needed." King Dep. 65-66. However, in March 2003, King revised earlier evaluations and concluded that American's financial situation was deteriorating faster than he had previously believed, although he "never completely agreed with the company's position that it was deteriorating as quickly as it said it was." Id. at 144-45.

Potok reached the conclusion that American's requests for financial concessions were warranted. At his deposition, he explained his conclusion:

The company had lost significant amount of money, it was projecting to lose a significant amount of money, it was not simply a cyclical problem they were facing, it was structural, they had to address, as did the other main line airlines, and in the absence of fixing their problems no prudent management or board would continue coasting along throwing money out the windows.

Potok Dep. 212-13. He recalled that, in March of 2003, he advised APFA with regard to whether the management of American had a basis for seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection:

The company was seeking to get cost reductions in a time when it was in a negative cash flow, projected negative cash flow situation. And in the absence of such cost savings and in the absence of a deal with labor, it was reasonable to expect that the company would file for Chapter 11.

Id. at 37. Based on the analysis and presentation of APFA's financial advisors, APFA's leadership concluded that American's threats to file for bankruptcy in the absence of concessions were serious.

II. March 2003 APFA-American Discussions Lead to a Tentative Agreement

A. The APFA-American Discussions

In March 2003, American advised APFA that, if the Company filed for bankruptcy, it intended to reduce its aircraft fleet by 85 to 90 planes, with the consequence that at least 2,500 flight attendants would be furloughed over and above the furloughs that would result from implementation of the $340 million concessionary agreement. Also, in bankruptcy, American would seek at least an additional $130 million a year in cuts above the concessions it was seeking out of bankruptcy and lay off substantially more employees. These additional concessions would have been required to offset the substantial costs associated with bankruptcy. The Company communicated both privately and publicly to the three unions that it was prepared to file for bankruptcy on March 31, 2003.

During these discussions, neither side served the other with a Section 6 notice or said it was proceeding under Section 6 of the RLA. Both sides recognized that the changes to the CBA sought by American were substantial.

To provide information to flight attendants regarding the negotiation process, Ward recorded a telephone hotline message accessible to union members. He stated that APFA was willing to make concessions because, "as dreadful as the Restructuring Agreement is, the Company's bankruptcy proposal -- that is what they would seek to achieve in bankruptcy from the court -- is far worse." APFA Hotline Message, April 4, 2003.

Also during this period, APFA issued an update to membership stating:

The three labor unions, after exhaustive research by each union's economic advisors, have determined that [American] is in serious financial trouble. This situation is deteriorating rapidly. . . .

The APFA Negotiating Table Team . . . [is] working tirelessly to come up with a consensual tentative agreement on a concessionary package. How much this package will be worth (as compared to the Company's $340 million request) has not yet been agreed to by the parties. However, [American] indicates it needs the full amount to avoid a bankruptcy filing. . . .

If . . . a package is concluded then it will then be submitted to the membership for a ratification vote. . . . If any single group rejects their respective package, the Company represents that it will likely be filing for bankruptcy.

The APFA Leadership believes avoiding bankruptcy is in our membership's best interest. Bankrupt airlines often shrink operations, furlough employees and use the bankruptcy laws to abrogate parts of union contracts. Use of the Section 1113 process of the federal bankruptcy law may cause greater sacrifices in areas we do not necessarily desire.

Because APFA is acting responsibly, it is seriously attempting to avoid bankruptcy. . . . [W]e still believe that obtaining an agreement between the parties is likely to be better than leaving the decision to a bankruptcy judge. Because of this, we will try to reach a deal regardless of how pessimistic things look.

American provided the restructuring terms on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. In mid-March 2003, American established unilaterally an April 15, 2003 deadline for APFA, TWU and APA to complete their respective membership ratification processes on the agreements they were required to reach with American by March 31, 2003, and informed the three Unions that, if they did not provide ratified agreements by the April 15, 2003 deadline, the Company would file for bankruptcy. Ward informed American that the APFA Constitution required a 30-day balloting period. American refused to extend the deadline.

During discussions in the second half of March, American adhered to its previously-stated position that APFA would have to provide $340 million per year in cost savings to the Company and that anything less was unacceptable. During this time period, the Company stated that the Union could make proposals regarding the specific concessions to be included in the agreement, but the overall package would have to result in total annual savings valued by the Company at $340 million. APFA attempted to interject its own terms, but American was not receptive to them. Rather, American provided APFA with a list of possible concessions and placed a value on each. Steve Boilini, a flight attendant and member of APFA's negotiating committee, interpreted the BOD's direction to "take any and all necessary actions needed to reach a negotiated consensual agreement" to mean that "the negotiating team wasn't going in to actually negotiate. . . . [W]e were going in to do anything we could to make sure American Airlines did not go bankrupt." Boilini Dep. 25. Mr. Boilini understood it was the negotiating team's purpose to conclude an agreement. Id. The APFA leadership felt that American had "a gun to our heads." Ward Dep. 119-22. The situation "was nothing [APFA] had ever experienced before." Liz Mallon (member of APFA BOD) Dep. 113-14.

To meet the $340 million figure solely through wage cuts would have required reductions in flight attendant wage rates of 35%. APFA determined to avoid a wage reduction of this magnitude, demanding that alternative concessions be included in the overall agreement. During the last two weeks of March 2003, APFA proposed contractual "snapbacks" providing a return to pre-concession terms and conditions of employment during the life of the agreement, as well as significant pay raises while the agreement remained in effect. The Company refused these requests because it viewed the concessions, not as a short-term change, but "a change in how the airline was going to operate in the future. . . . [W]hat [American was] doing would permanently change the company in light of what was happening in the industry." Jeffrey Brundage (former American Vice President of Employee Relations) Dep. 342-43. APFA also proposed other "upsides" for the flight attendants, e.g., unlimited recall rights for furloughees and a profit-sharing program, both of which were rejected by the Company. The Company sought to eliminate the flight attendants' defined benefit pension plan. APFA resisted these changes.

B. The Company's Bankruptcy Preparation and Section 1113 Proposal

The Company retained legal and financial advisors to help prepare for a bankruptcy filing. The Company also discussed with a group of financial institutions an arrangement to provide $1.5 billion in financing for the Company's operations while in bankruptcy. The Company intended to file for bankruptcy on April 15, 2003 if all three Unions did not ratify agreements by that date.

Shortly before the Company's March 31, 2003 deadline for the three unions to reach agreements with American, the Company provided APFA with its "§ 1113 Proposal" detailing the cost reductions the Company would seek from its flight attendants under the Bankruptcy Code if the Company filed for bankruptcy. The § 1113 Proposal contained flight attendant cost reductions of $470 million annually, i.e., $130 million a year more than the reductions the Company was requiring in a consensual agreement with APFA. The company indicated that, over and apart from additional furloughs that would result from implementation of the $470 million in annual cost reductions contained in the § 1113 Proposal, the grounding of 85 to 90 aircraft that the Company intended to effectuate if it filed for bankruptcy would result in 2,500 additional flight attendant furloughs.

C. APFA and American Reach a Tentative Agreement on March 31, 2003

The APFA negotiating team reached a tentative Restructuring Participation Agreement ("RPA" or "Restructuring Agreement") with the Company on March 31, 2003. The tentative RPA contained a 15.6% wage cut; reductions in some "premium pay" categories; a 33% reduction in vacation; reductions in the per diem, layover rest time, sick leave and the monthly guarantee; waiver of crew meals; and a number of work rule changes that would result in the need for fewer flight attendants to perform the assigned work. It was estimated that the work rule changes would result in 2,391 flight attendant furloughs. The RPA, as initially agreed to, was to become amendable on April 30, 2009.

On March 31, 2003, the RPA was submitted to the APFA Executive Committee. The Executive Committee received a briefing from the negotiating team on the RPA and adopted a Resolution that included the following determinations: (1) the APFA President and negotiating team had "vigorously attempted to secure the best agreement that could be reached under the circumstances, given the serious, substantial threat of an imminent bankruptcy filing" by American; (2) the tentative RPA was "the best proposal that could be obtained under the circumstances and taking into consideration the serious, substantial threat of an imminent bankruptcy filing"; (3) "if agreements are not ratified by the Company's employees, there is a great likelihood that the Company will promptly file a bankruptcy petition and that, in the event of such a filing, there is a strong likelihood that the APFA-represented flight attendants will suffer a reduction in wages and working conditions which exceeds those provided" under the tentative RPA; and (4) "given this reality and in light of the circumstances presented . . . the best interests of the APFA-represented flight attendants will be furthered by ratification of the Company proposal presented to the Executive Committee for its consideration." The Executive Committee directed the tentative agreement be submitted to the APFA membership for ratification. At this point, the parties had yet to agree on final contract language.

III. The Balloting Process

A. The BOD's Adoption of an Expedited, Telephonic Balloting Procedure

The APFA Constitution requires that a ratification vote on a tentative agreement be conducted via mail-in ballot over a 30-day period commencing with the distribution of the agreement's final language.*fn6 Art. XI § 1(C), (E)(2). Ward voiced strong concerns with the Company's imposed ratification deadline, but the Company reiterated that it would file for bankruptcy if the Union did not meet the April 15 ratification deadline. If the membership ratification vote was conducted over a 30-day period, the balloting would conclude after the Company-imposed April 15, 2003 deadline and thus, as per the Company's threats, after the Company had filed for bankruptcy.

On March 19, 2003, the APFA BOD had met by teleconference to discuss how to conduct a membership ratification vote if a tentative restructuring agreement were reached between APFA and American. During its deliberations, the BOD received a memorandum dated March 17, 2003 from the APFA Constitution Committee that had drafted the APFA Constitution. This group of former union leaders reported to the BOD that it had unanimously agreed to the following: in drafting the Constitution, the Committee never contemplated the potentially urgent need for ratification that can arise -- as it apparently has now -- in the context of concessionary bargaining. We are confident that had we considered that issue, the Committee would have drafted and recommended an expedited ratification process.

Tellingly, in the one situation the Committee did anticipate in which there is an urgency to ratify -- reaching an agreement to end a strike -- the Constitution does provide for a very quick ratification procedure. (See Article XI.2.) Moreover, the Constitution grants the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors broad ...

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