HANOVER TWP., Pa. | A rumored walkout at Lehigh Valley International Airport has prompted the airport authority to seek an injunction against any work stoppages, while the authority and union negotiate a new deal.
But that threat of a walkout may have been enough to push the authority and union closer to a deal, according to president of the union representing mechanics, technicians, custodians and others.
The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority on Monday filed a complaint asking that a Lehigh County judge prevent Teamsters Local No. 773 from conducting walkouts or strike, while the two sides negotiate a new contract. The current labor deal expired on June 30.
A new authority employee was told by several union members that a walkout was scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, according to the complaint filed in Lehigh County Court. The employee reported to airport authority management that he was expected to participate in the walkout or be “subjected to negative consequences, if he did not,” according to court papers.
The authority’s attorney filed the injunction request shortly before 12:30 p.m. Monday. Court records show that a county judge filed an order about 1:45 p.m. preventing the union or its members from engaging in a walkout.
Authority Executive Director Tom Stoudt said Wednesday that the injunction was filed only to assure the public’s safety and that service was not disrupted. A hearing on continuing the preliminary injunction was scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday. But Stoudt said a hearing date has been delayed and that a hearing may no longer be necessary given the progress made in labor talks.
In its complaint, the airport authority notes that the current collective bargaining agreement continues year-to-year unless the authority or union submits, in writing, a 60-day notice to end the contract. The two sides have been negotiating and continue to do so, meaning they haven’t reached an impasse, according to court papers.
The contract specifically precludes the union from sanctioning a sympathy strike, slow down or work stoppage, according to the airport authority. The authority goes on to argue that labor disputes are subject to the state’s public employee law, which calls for several steps before the union can strike.
Dennis Hower serves as president of Teamsters Local 773 in Whitehall Township. He said Wednesday that union members did take a strike authorization vote last Friday, which was “overwhelmingly approved.” But no work stoppage of any kind occurred, he said.
As for the injunction request, Hower said the authority was “exercising its rights like any employer would” as would the union.
The two sides continue to negotiate a new contract and were “close on an agreement in principal” earlier this week with only one or two outstanding issues, according to Hower. He’s hoping the authority and union can hammer out the remaining issues soon.
“It took the threat of a work stoppage to get things moving,” Hower said.
If talks go as expected, Hower said a new labor deal will be ratified, and members will be happy with the agreement.
Stoudt said he believes the authority and union have a tentative agreement on most issues with only one or two “smaller issues” to address.
“We’re very close,” he said.
When asked about the authority’s allegation that a union member would be subjected to “negative consequences” if he didn’t participate in the walkout, Hower said it was the first he heard of the allegation. He also added that “lawsuits always make things sound worse than they really are.”
Under current case law, a union is allowed to fine any member who crosses a picket line, Hower said. It’s a tactic that’s been rarely used by Local 773 at the airport and one the union doesn’t want to use, he said.
“If someone wholly new to the process took that as a threat, that’s ridiculous,” Hower said. “We just want our members to stick together as brothers and sisters in labor.”