The opening salvo in the Transport Workers Union’s (TWU) response to AMR Corp.’s restructuring plan targets maintenance outsourcing, claiming it is a “dirty little secret” that compromises safety.

AMR last week approached its unions with a concession package that called for 20% cuts in labor costs. For TWU’s mechanics and flight services clerks these cuts included a 40% reduction in staff numbers, the closure of a maintenance base in Fort Worth and with it the loss of widebody overhaul work.

Initial reaction from union leadership focused on how broad the concessions packages were and how they were unexpected from an airline that had for years tried to avoid Chapter 11 reorganization. But that reaction has now shifted, with the TWU choosing to question the safety of outsourcing aircraft maintenance.

“The airline industry’s dirty little secret is that more and more planes are being flown to third-party, offshore locations for major overhauls and repairs. The FAA only inspects these facilities in China, El Salvador, Mexico and elsewhere, at most, once a year—and by treaty must give 30 days’ notice. A loophole in our laws allows our commercial airliners to be worked on in these poorly secured, largely unregulated facilities, by mostly unlicensed mechanics who lack background checks, who have never had a drug test, and who often cannot read the repair manuals,” says TWU President James Little.

“Now, American Airlines wants to go down the same flight path. Without a doubt, off-shoring aircraft maintenance is wrong for American and wrong for America,” adds the union chief.

AMR dismisses such claims, noting that “we never have and never will compromise the safety and reliability of our fleet.”

The airline adds that it “will continue to handle a large portion of our maintenance work with American Airlines employees at our own facilities,” and dispels TWU’s safety claims by noting that “though we are proposing increasing our outsourcing, work done at any other facility will always be subject to our and the FAA’s very rigorous safety standards.”

“Nearly every other airline performs work outside the U.S. If we decide to do so, we must use an FAA-certified facility and also use FAA-certified parts because we are a U.S.-registered carrier. The FAA will audit any facility that we use, just like they do today. This is the process other U.S.-based carriers have used for their outsourcing for many years,” continues AMR.