Is LAX considering policy to prop up unions? Airlines say yes.

Airlines for America, the trade group representing of the nation’s largest airlines, is threatening legal action against the city of Los Angeles over proposed policy that it contends would give an unfair advantage to unions at LAX.

The issue involves proposed rules for which Certified Service Providers can operate at LAX. This is a fancy term for the third-party outfits that provide ground handling services for many major carriers at LAX, such as Turkish, Korean, China Eastern, Air France and even American Airlines. It’s cheaper for these airlines to hire contracted workers to handle baggage and marshal airplanes than to hire their own employees. A couple of the biggest companies that do this job are Menzies Aviation and Swissport.

The SEIU USWW, a powerful union that backed Mayor Eric Garcetti in the last election, wants to organize these workers. Thus far, it has had little success.

But now, according to the airline group, the city of Los Angeles is considering adopting new language language that would give the SEIU a leg up in this battle. The language would be inserted in the rules that govern which service providers may operate at LAX.

It’s complicated language, but Airlines for America says the tweaks are designed only to help unions.

“The provision would effectively mandate union representation and require bargaining and binding arbitration with un-elected union representatives — all of which is preempted by federal labor statutes,” wrote Elizabeth S. Dougherty, a lawyer for Airlines for America in a letter sent to Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners president Sean Burton.

Here’s the proposed language that Airlines for America does not like. It starts with Section 3.6 — Labor Harmony. From what I understand, there is already a “Labor Harmony” section inserted in the service provider agreement, but it lacks much in the way of teeth.

Proposed LAX Labor Peace Agreement Language

And now here’s a strongly word letter sent on April 25 by Dougherty to Burton. In both this and another letter, lawyers for Airlines for America suggest they might take legal action against the city if the airport commissioners approve the proposed “Labor Harmony” section changes.

Second Airlines for America Letter to Sean Burton, Airport Commission President

Jeff Millman, a spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, said this in an email:

“Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) has adopted the Certified Service Provider Program (CSPP), one of the strongest programs of its kind in the country, to ensure that airlines that fly into LAX, workers who work at LAX, and, most importantly, passengers who fly to and through LAX have the safest and best experience possible.  LAWA is currently considering amendments to further strengthen the CSPP.  LAWA shared these draft amendments with its airline partners and invited their feedback.  The airlines responded in writing last week, including with additional comments on Friday, and LAWA staff will consider their feedback carefully before making any recommendation to its governing board.”

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