‘Negligent’ aircraft mechanic’s termination doesn’t fly with arbitrator

September 2, 2016

Employment Law BookDischarge was excessive for an employee’s response to a power outage.     

An airframe and power plant mechanic with 37 years’ service was discharged for negligence and misuse or unauthorized operation of a government vehicle during a widespread power outage at an air force base.

(Westlaw users: Click here for the Labor Arbitration Information System.)

He was cited for using an aircraft tug’s lights to illuminate his work area, leaving the vehicle unattended with the engine running, and failing to chock the wheels. This allowed the tug to move and strike an aircraft, rendering it non-airworthy and requiring extensive repairs.

The arbitrator ruled that discharge was too severe.

He noted that the company lacked portable light carts at the base which forced the grievant to rely on three small flashlights and the tug’s two headlamps to assist him in his work.

Thus, utilizing the tug’s lights to help maneuver two 52-foot-wingspan aircraft into a hangar was not a “misuse” of the vehicle, the arbitrator said.

As for the grievant’s failure to chock the tug’s wheels, the arbitrator found evidence “beyond a doubt that before the accident mechanics … did not chock the wheels of tugs when using them.” In fact, the site supervisor admitted the policy went unenforced as a result of “an oversight on my end.”

Accordingly, there was no just cause to discipline the grievant for that lapse.

However, by leaving the tug unattended with the engine running, the grievant demonstrated poor judgment. His defense — that he wanted more light and was afraid the battery would run down if he turned off the engine — did not outweigh the risks, the arbitrator said.

Concluding that the grievant was guilty of poor judgment but not gross negligence, the arbitrator reduced termination to a five-day suspension.

L-3 Communications LLC and IAM, District Lodge 131, 44 LAIS 178, 2015 WL 10734727