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American Airlines sued over new policy

Citizen Staff

2 staffers at a local call center file a class-action suit claiming deferral of 5 vacation days is unfair.

By TEYA VITU

tvitu@tucsoncitizen.com

Two American Airlines call center employees in Tucson yesterday filed a class-action lawsuit against the airline charging that American improperly changed vacation and holiday policies, causing some employees to lose time off they had earned.

Nancy Geiger and Laura Davis, both local residents and reservation agents, filed suit in Pima County Superior Court on behalf of all the estimated 14,000 American Airlines customer service center employees in the United States.

The suit alleges that American this month changed the vacation policy, forcing call center employees to defer five days of vacation until next year. A month earlier, the airline changed the holiday policy, removing the “floating holiday.”

Call center employees are nonunion and most of the 1,200 employees at American’s Tucson call center, other than salaried management, are affected by the policy. Each employee signed a contract agreeing to certain vacation and holiday terms at the start of the year.

“The hourly workers, just like the union workers, are willing to help make concessions to contribute to the survival of the company, but it is unfair to make us give up what we have already earned and were relying on,” Geiger said through her attorney. “We have suffered pay cuts, but to take away time and benefits we have already earned is too much.

“It is simply unfair and illegal.”

Employees who already used vacation time and do not have five days left to defer to next year may have to reimburse American or have five days deducted from next year’s vacation, said attorney Sean Brearcliffe at the Tucson law firm of Rusing & Lopez.

American denies any wrongdoing.

“American Airlines is in full compliance with the law,” American spokeswoman Tara Baten said in an e-mail message. She did not elaborate.

American Airlines, fighting back from the brink of bankruptcy, has racked up more than $6.2 billion in losses since the beginning of 2001. Union and nonunion employees have agreed to pay cuts and officials have said chairman Edward Brennan would forgo his salary and new chief executive Gerard Arpey would decline a pay raise, the Associated Press reported.

Geiger, Davis and other call center employees believe that having to put off five days of earned vacation until next year is the equivalent of losing vacation time this year, Brearcliffe said.

With the holiday policy, the signed contracts have employees commit to working five of 10 identified holidays and then receive five floating holidays, days off of their choice. The new policy simply offers five holidays.

No specific dollar figure was demanded in the suit other than “an amount to be proven at trial.”

“In a perfect world, they would compensate all their employees immediately,” Brearcliffe said, referring to paying damages for time off that was taken away for this year.

Attorney Mick Rusing added, “We hope this lawsuit will cause the company to reverse the policy and pay these employees what they are owed.”

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