(Reuters) - A judge on Wednesday temporarily halted a union organizing drive for 10,000 passenger service agents at bankrupt American Airlines that had been cleared by federal mediators.
U.S. District Judge Terry Means issued an order in Fort Worth, Texas, preventing a representation election scheduled for June 21 through August 2.
The Communications Workers of America wants to represent agents at airports nationwide.
Means found that American was likely to prevail in a lawsuit challenging criteria used by the National Mediation Board, or NMB, to permit the vote. The agency overseeing union balloting had asked Means to dismiss the complaint.
The closely watched decision comes amid a series of organizing setbacks at big airlines.
Republicans in Congress have forced changes in law to make it more difficult for airline labor groups to hold an election, pleasing industry and provoking liberal Democrats who count on union political support.
Means scheduled a hearing for June 21 to determine whether the NMB exceeded its authority.
At issue is American's claim that mediators applied an outdated standard for determining necessary worker support for a union representation election.
A law that took effect in February requires at least 50 percent of eligible workers to sign cards stating they want a vote, up from the previous threshold of 35 percent.
The CWA said it requested an election before the standard was changed, and the NMB agreed the vote should move forward.
The case is not expected to affect American's bankruptcy restructuring. As a cost-cutting measure, the airline has threatened to void contracts for big unions, including pilots and flight attendants, if they do not agree to steep concessions soon.
(Reporting By John Crawley; Editing by Peter Cooney)