Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday against the operator of Los Angeles International Airport alleges that a new requirement for airline service providers to reach agreements with labor unions is unconstitutional and a violation of federal law.

The lawsuit was filed against Los Angeles World Airports and the city of Los Angeles by Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for various carriers, and the Airline Service Providers Association, which represents 17 businesses contracted by airlines at LAX to provide such services as baggage handling, ticketing, wheelchair assistance, security, and aircraft fueling and cleaning.

Nancy Suey Castles, a LAWA spokeswoman, said the city agency had not yet seen the lawsuit, and no comment would be forthcoming until the document was reviewed.

A representative for the city of Los Angeles did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit alleges that LAWA and the city are improperly infringing on the role of the federal government by requiring all airline service providers at LAX to reach a labor agreement with labor unions, even when employees have chosen not to be represented by a union.

As a result, the plaintiffs contend that local airport authorities are effectively regulating the labor relations of service providers, including rules for collective bargaining and dispute resolution — even though federal law makes clear that such labor relations are governed solely by two federal statutes: the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act.

“In other words, as a condition of doing business at LAX, (a service provider) must agree to negotiate and enter into a labor agreement with a labor organization that does not represent its employees, regardless of the wishes of those employees — and even, apparently, if the employees already have a collective bargaining representative,” according to the lawsuit. “The labor organization thus effectively would become the bargaining representative of the employees with whom the (service provider) must deal.”

Rather than encouraging labor peace, the proposal could lead to increased labor discord by employees who resent unelected unions entering into binding agreements on their behalf, according to plaintiff A4A.

“Airlines depend on high-quality service providers throughout the country to deliver the best travel experience for passengers,” said Rob DeLucia, A4A’s vice president of labor and employment and assistant general counsel.

“Federal law is clear. Employees have the right to determine if they should be represented, and if so, by whom,” he said. “Creating a patchwork of conflicting local labor regulations inappropriately interferes with airlines’ ability to manage their operations and LAX. This proposal unnecessarily harms airlines and the customers we serve by limiting competition, adding complexity and ultimately increasing the cost of air travel.”

The “Labor Peace” provision is included in LAWA’s Certified Service Provider License Agreement, which governs the terms under which airline service providers operate at LAX. Businesses that do not comply with the agreement can be banned from operating at the airport.

“Ultimately, individual service providers and their employees should be the ones to choose whether to be represented by organized labor — it shouldn’t be forced upon them by the city,” said Len Sloper, managing director of the Airline Service Providers Association, which represents both unionized and non-unionized businesses at LAX. “We believe our members and their employees should have the right to make that decision.”

The lawsuit also asserts that the agreement undermines the federal government’s role as the sole regulator of airline services, as established in the Airline Deregulation Act.

City News Service

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