The not-so-friendly skies: U.S. unions battle over airline workers

Teamsters pushing to displace unions representing ground workers at American Airlines, US Airways
||Last Updated: 05/29/2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) — The Teamsters union on Tuesday ramped up its effort to displace the unions representing ground workers at American Airlines and US Airways Group, which plan to merge this year and form the world's biggest airline.

The Teamsters said it filed with the U.S. National Mediation Board for an election to represent mechanics at AMR Corp's American Airlines, who are currently represented by the Transport Workers Union of America. Earlier this month, the Teamsters filed for an election for US Airways mechanics, seeking to displace the machinists union.

Should the National Mediation Board determine that 50 per cent of the union members at US Airways and American Airlines favor the Teamsters, it can set representation elections. The Teamsters union declined to comment on how many signatures it had obtained from American mechanics.

The transport workers and machinists unions blasted the move, saying the Teamsters union was looking to take members from other unions as its membership declines.

In a statement Garry Drummond, air transport director of the transport workers, called the Teamsters "a troubled union."

"In 2012, the Teamsters lost more members than any other union in the United States" and "has resorted to raiding established unions at American Airlines and US Airways," Drummond's statement added.

Sito Pantoja, general vice president with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, said the Teamsters were hurting labour "by dividing already unionized employees with hollow promises."

Pantoja's statement added: "They are doing nothing to bring new airline workers into the labour movement."

Earlier this month, the TWU and machinist unions said they planned to form a partnership to become the bargaining agent for nearly 30,000 ground workers at each airline after the merger closes.

The Teamsters union announced its filing at a news conference and phone briefing from Washington, D.C. Some American Airlines mechanics said they wanted a strong bargaining agent that could help combat job losses and reduced benefits in the airline industry.

"We suffered through bankruptcy and now with the merger with US Airways, we need to be prepared for more changes that management will no doubt use to further cut costs and undermine our craft," said Jim Anderson, a 25-year American Airlines mechanic based in Tulsa, Okla.

Anderson said American Airlines mechanics went to the Teamsters seeking new representation.

Paul Flaningan, a spokesman for American Airlines, said the airline's workers have the right to choose their unions.

"If the National Mediation Board determines that the Teamsters received interest from at least 50 per cent of American's Mechanic and Related employees and an election is authorized, we hope our Mechanics will examine the options and take the time to vote on the path they believe is best for them, their families, and the company," Flaningan added in a statement.

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