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Federal judge tosses union suit against LAX airline service company

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An airline services company at Los Angeles International Airport has won a court victory in a longstanding battle with a labor union fighting to regain its representation of the firm’s workers.

Aviation Safeguards announced Thursday that U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson threw out a lawsuit filed in July 2012 by several company workers and United Service Workers West, a local of the Service Employees International Union.

The case accused company managers of coercing their employees’ choice of union representation before a majority of workers voted to terminate an SEIU contract in December 2011.

“We are very pleased that a federal judge has ruled that our employees had a right to walk away from the union,” said Joseph Conlon, a regional vice president who heads the company’s operations at LAX.

Aviation Safeguards had about 450 employees who were covered by the canceled SEIU contract. Airlines contract with the company for baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair attendants and security workers.

Wilson ruled that the National Mediation Board, not the courts, has the power to resolve disputes between labor and management over union representation.

He also dismissed allegations that company managers coerced workers into voting against the union, saying the case was brought too late to comply with a six-month statute of limitations. Wilson said key events in the dispute occurred on or before Dec. 30, 2011, but the lawsuit was filed seven months later.

According to court documents, the union alleged that company executives interfered with the vote by hiring a firm that specialized in fighting unions and by working with anti-union employees to circulate petitions among the workers to decertify the SEIU.

Aviation Safeguards contended that its employees had a voluntary agreement with the union that could be legally canceled at any time by a majority vote. Conlon said that after the union contract was terminated, the pay of company employees increased 18%.

The labor dispute with Aviation Safeguards has been acrimonious for several years. Union officials and their supporters have repeatedly demonstrated at LAX to protest working conditions and what they consider improper conduct by the company.

In late 2012, the SEIU demanded that Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, revoke Aviation Safeguards’ five-year agreement to operate at the airport, something the city’s airport commission has refused to do.

Jacob Hay, a spokesman for the union, said the court ”let workers at LAX down when it failed to give them a legal remedy to protect the wages and benefits they negotiated and agreed to with the company.”

Hay added that the SEIU will consider its legal options and continue to work with Aviation Safeguard workers “to make their voices heard for good jobs at LAX.”

Wilson’s ruling is the second time that a federal court has upheld the decertification of an SEIU contract by employees of an airline services company at LAX. In 2010, another judge rejected a union challenge to a vote by workers at Calop Aeroground Services.

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