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United Airlines Cancels Plan to Outsource Some Technical Work

Members of Engineers and Scientists of California, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 20, who create manuals and work documents for mechanics and engineers at United Airlines, will retain their jobs now that the airline has backed off from its plan to outsource the work. The engineers, technologists and specialists who would have lost their jobs are part of a team that works with about 3,000 mechanics at the UAL maintenance base to ensure that proper designs and plans are applied when building and repairing aircraft there.

Lou Lucivero, President of the United Airlines Unit of ESC, IFPTE Local 20, said that 35 of the union’s members would have been affected, along with another 21 management and salaried employees. ESC, IFPTE Local 20 represents 201 engineers at United at San Francisco International Airport and Chicago O’Hare, the airline’s headquarters. “We were originally facing a loss of up to 70 members when United first announced its outsourcing through off-shoring initiative in March 2009,” Lucivero said.

Last year, the union sent a list of their concerns about outsourcing to the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation because they believed this unprecedented act deserved further scrutiny by aviation safety professionals. The Engineers union and the Teamsters, who represent the UAL mechanics, said that work done by non-airline workers off site could result in miscommunication, mistakes, and inferior quality work. U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier questioned the impact the move would have on the quality of repair work and aircraft safety, and asked the House aviation subcommittee to hold a hearing on outsourcing at United. ESC, IFPTE Local 20 also raised the issue of imposing limitations on the outsourcing of sensitive, safety related information to foreign employees.

Had this offshoring initiative succeeded, foreign employees would have had access to aircraft research, design, development, testing, technical publications, and maintenance and repair operations information of the “world’s largest carrier.”

Lucivero said the outsourcing would have led to more chances of something going wrong. The airline had started the process of outsourcing the work to India and planned to move the jobs there by the end of last year. Lucivero said that United found that the outsourcing effort wasn’t working. “It highlighted the expertise and ability of our people here,” he said, “We were able to do higher quality work with less people.”

“We were even forced to train our replacements,” Lucivero added, which created a high level of stress and anxiety in the workplace. “It was always clear to us that our people were the subject matter experts, and that we had the institutional knowledge and the proven technical and engineering expertise,” he said. Lucivero extended a special vote of thanks to IFPTE representatives Mike Restivo and Cynthia Igne-Matsuno for their tireless efforts.

United Airlines does outsource some of its aircraft maintenance work. The unions have fought for retaining jobs at SFO. Lucivero said he hoped that as United and Continental finalize their merger, they would look at the issue of outsourcing with a fresh set of eyes. Continental also outsources some of its maintenance work.

With United’s failed attempt at outsourcing some of the engineering work, Lucivero said, “We’re hoping they’ll bring the outsourced jobs back. This is a victory for our members and the flying public, but we can’t rest on our laurels. Outsourcing remains a threat to the jobs of American workers everywhere, and labor must continue its struggle.”