American Airlines workers anxious about Tulsa jobs

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — American Airlines workers were left in the dark Thursday about whose jobs would be on the chopping block in Tulsa a day after the nation's third-largest airline company said 2,100 employees would likely be laid off at the city's maintenance hub.

Corporate executives announced Wednesday that they planned to lay off about 13,000 employees companywide, including thousands of mechanics, flight attendants, pilots and management staff as the Texas-based company goes through bankruptcy reorganization. The company has 88,000 employees, including about 7,000 in Tulsa.

American Airlines is the largest private employer in the city, where local finance officials estimated a devastating $300 million annual economic loss if the threats of job losses go through.

"It's the anxiety," explained a teary-eyed Donna Florea, a mechanic and third-generation American Airlines employee whose trade was handed down to her from her grandfather. After finishing her shift Thursday afternoon, the 47-year-old said she was among a dying breed of jack-of-all trades in the industry known for being able to drill, rivet and inspect welding jobs alongside the best of them.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. I am a skilled laborer," she said, dabbing her eyes and nose with a crumpled-up tissue. "I'm a rarity."

Florea isn't alone. There are hundreds of mechanics and technicians on the list of workers who could be targeted. Distributed by the corporate office Wednesday, the list includes 4,000 mechanics and work groups, 4,200 fleet service and other Transport Workers Union workers, along with 2,300 flight attendants, 1,400 management and support staff, and 400 pilots.

The company hasn't said which jobs in Tulsa would be targeted, or when the layoffs might happen. A company spokeswoman didn't return a phone message and email seeking comment Thursday.

The maintenance hub's economic impact on the Tulsa region is enormous. City experts estimated that if all 2,100 jobs were eliminated, the city would lose $300 million annually, including about $5 million in county and sales tax revenue.

"It would have a devastating effect," said Clay Bird, Tulsa's economic development director. "If these jobs go away, we take money out of the overall economy ... such as restaurants and sporting-goods stores and different retail establishments.

"It affects everyone. It affects that pothole in the front of your house that you want repaired and the park your children play in," he said.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, who is leading efforts to protect the maintenance facility's jobs, said his office is exploring incentives to convince the company to keep the hub. He expects negotiations between the city and American Airlines to last several months.

"We in Oklahoma have a strong, positive feeling towards American," he said Thursday. "It's part of our economic fabric, and they've been a part of that for decades."

Rick Mullings, organizer for the Transport Workers Union, stressed that nothing was a done deal and that the union would do everything it could to keep as many employees in Tulsa as it could. Contract negotiations are ongoing in Texas, and he said such discussions are expecially difficult during bankruptcies.

"It is possible the whole plant all will get shut down. What American does is make the quick buck, that's what they're in it for. The numbers (about layoffs and needed cost savings) are changing as we speak," Mullings said.

"It's sickening today," he added. "If they close this plant, the Tulsa economy is going to crash."

American Airlines and parent AMR Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in November after posting $11 billion in losses since 2001. Labor talks are ongoing between company representatives and union officials. American serves around 240,000 passengers per day.

In a letter to employees this week, American Airlines chairman and CEO Thomas Horton said the restructuring process would allow the company "to spread the effects of cost savings as broadly and evenly as possible, but there is no avoiding the fast that the cost reductions will be deep. And there is no sugarcoating the effect on our people."

For 49-year-old American machinist Chris Rhinehart called the recent cost-cutting move by American as "the tip of the iceberg of corporate greed."

"It's devastating, very disappointing," he said. "I don't see this as being over. This is the initial shot across the bow."