An airline union president promised there would be blood in a contract dispute with American Airlines just weeks before a member allegedly sabotaged a plane.
In May, Transport Workers Union president John Samuelsen confronted American Airlines executives at LaGuardia Airport, saying that the company's refusal to grant union terms would be met with "absolutely vicious strike action." Samuelsen sent a stern warning that the consequences could mean "bloodying American Airlines."
"If this erupts into the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement ever saw, that's what's going to happen," Samuelsen said in a video posted by the union. "We are going to shut this place down."
In July, a TWU member did just that at Miami International Airport, according to federal officials. The FBI has charged American Airlines mechanic Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani with sabotaging a flight navigation system on a Bahamas-bound plane. Pilots caught the defect and unloaded 150 passengers. Alani cited the union dispute as the reason he tampered with the aircraft.
"Alani explained to law enforcement that he was upset at the stalled contract dispute between the union workers and American Airlines, and that this dispute had affected him financially," the FBI complaint said. "Alani claimed that he tampered with the target aircraft in order to cause a delay or have the flight cancelled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work."
The Iraqi-born Alani was arrested Thursday and appeared before a federal judge on Friday. Samuelsen said in a statement that he was "shocked" by the allegations. The union condemned the allegations and said its members are committed to the safety of passengers.
"The Transport Workers Union is shocked by the reported allegations of airplane sabotage by an employee. If these allegations of sabotage are true, they are outrageous and indefensible, and we fully condemn such actions," Samuelsen said in a statement. "Our mechanics are highly trained professionals who are dedicated to performing at the highest standards in the industry—and we will not tolerate anything less."
A union spokesman declined to answer questions about Samuelsen's rhetoric leading up to the alleged incident.
In May Samuelsen cited his record as a subway union organizer as evidence of his ability to "fight back."
"We're going to fight back, if that means bloodying American Airlines then it means bloodying American Airlines," he said. "We are going to engage in absolutely vicious strike action against American Airlines to the likes of which you've never seen."
American Airlines said Alani's actions do not reflect on its 15,000 tech workers, saying in a statement that they are the "best in the business." The airline said it has made great strides to reach an agreement with the union.
"We maintain full trust and confidence in our team members and the intentional design of our rigorous safety policies and procedures," an airline spokesman said in a statement. "Next to a shared accountability for the safety of our aircraft and an unwavering respect for the tech ops profession, we and [TWU] remain committed to reaching a joint agreement for one contract for our entire Tech Ops team."
A spokesman for American Airlines did not address Samuelsen's approach to bargaining.
The two sides are due back before the National Mediation Board on September 16. Alani is due back in court on September 20.