A federal judge has temporarily stopped a union-organizing election at American Airlines that was to begin next week.
U.S. District Court Judge Terry R. Means said Wednesday that American was likely to win a lawsuit seeking to stop the election among passenger-service agents, so he granted a temporary restraining order.
The judge scheduled a hearing in the case for June 21. The National Mediation Board had scheduled voting to begin that day and to run through Aug. 2.
The Communications Workers of America seeks to represent nearly 10,000 agents who take reservations and work at airports. It's the largest group of nonunion workers among American's 73,000 employees.
American argued that under a law enacted in February, the union didn't get enough workers to sign cards calling for a union-representation vote. It sued the U.S. mediation board in federal district court on May 2 to block the election.
The Communications Workers union claimed that it filed a request for an election in December under old rules that required 35 percent support. Congress raised the minimum support to 50 percent in an aviation bill that was signed into law on Feb. 14. The mediation board sided with the union and decided this month to go ahead with an election.
In his ruling Means said American was likely to win a lawsuit on the merits of the case and could suffer permanent damage if an election were held before the union got signed cards from 50 percent of eligible workers.
"It's a terrible decision for workers," said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the union. "It's workers who are suffering irreparable harm by being denied their democratic right to vote."
The union had joined the case on the mediation board's side.
Democrats in Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have taken up the union's cause in letters to the airline.
American Airlines spokeswoman Missy Cousino said the company was pleased with the temporary order and the judge's opinion that the airline's legal position would probably prevail.
"Now, as we have hoped all along, the court will have a full opportunity to review and rule on whether or not the correct law was applied in the (mediation board's) decision to call for an election," she said.
American and parent AMR Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in November. American is seeking to void contracts with its three current unions, which represent pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. A federal bankruptcy judge in New York is scheduled to rule on American's request next week.