I’ve always told friends who commented on union/management battles that they ain’t seen nothin’ yet until they see union go after union. The airlines with their recent and not-so-recent mergers have been some of the best examples of union vs. union animosity. Plus, union heavy-handiness makes any cruel capitalistic management look tame by comparison.
I swear, union members would rather face unemployment and starve than let another union member get a step on them in term of seniority. With all of the union action going on these days in the airline space, one needs a scorecard for issues right here in the U.S.A. No need to bring Europe’s unionized airlines into the mix.
• Delta workers are in the midst of voting on whether they should unionize or be a non-union shop. Northwest Airlines was heavily unionized and the old Delta was heavily non-union with the pilots being the only major unionized group in the company.
• United and Continental Airlines are only now beginning the merger of their unions. The Continental group is noted for its friendly nature and cooperative nature when it comes to working with management. United’s unions are made up of some of the most disgruntled workers in the country.
• US Airways pilots are still working in two separate unions — the old USAir union and the old America West union. This is all years after the merger. The sticking point — seniority. Even though America West pulled the USAir pilots’ coals from the fire, that has nothing to do with blending workforces according to unionthink.
• Southwest and AirTran are only now beginning to test the waters of union mergers as they begin their moves toward joint operations. In this case the improvement in wages and benefits accorded to AirTran workers being assimilated into the Southwest system will make life a bit easier, but seniority will be an issue whether money is better or worse. It seems to be a holy grail for unions.
• American Airlines is looking at a trifecta of union irritation and then some. Pilots are coming into negotiation for a new contract. The mechanics have rejected a new contract approved by their negotiating committee. The flight attendants have asked for permission to strike. And now with the recall of some of the old ex-TWA flight attendants, wounds created by AA’s Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) are coming back into focus.
I have been good friends with both current AA flight attendants and with laid off ex-TWA flight attendants. AA just announced they will recall 545 flight attendants to active employment status. All 545 are former TWA employees. There are about 800 more TWA attendants that remain on the recall list waiting to return to the job after more than 7 or 8 years of unemployment.
I guess my sentiments fall on the side of the ex-TWA workers more than on the side of AA’s APFA leadership. No union in history has been treated with the disdain the ex-TWA flight attendants had heaped on them by APFA. The ex-TWA flight attendants are returning, dedicated to doing a good job, but still smarting from finding themselves laid off more than half a decade.
I just received these comments in a release from from the Coalition for Union Principles, a group made up of ex-TWA flight attendants. It does not paint a pretty picture nor does it offer a snapshot of ongoing copacetic worker relationships. Most of their statement follows.
“We are grateful to American for the recall, and the company can expect the returning TWA flight attendants to go above and beyond the call of duty to deliver excellent customer service for which they have become known” said Nancy McGuire, a former TWA Flight Attendant.
The flight attendants who will be returning to the job have between 33 and 44 years service in the airline industry. They will be returning to the bottom of the seniority list, below other American attendants who have as little as 9 years of seniority. That’s because when American purchased TWA, American’s flight attendant union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), refused to credit the TWA attendants with any seniority and placed them in the position of new hires at the bottom of the seniority list, where they were first in line to be laid off.
Seniority is the bedrock principle of organized labor in the airline industry. It governs issues from bidding for assignments to the order in which employees are laid off and recalled. APFA stands alone among all other flight attendant unions in the way they have treated the TWA members. All unions except APFA recognize the seniority earned at the previous carrier when two airlines are combined.
In the recent United / Continental merger, the larger union at United, the Association of Flight Attendants, has agreed to honor all seniority earned by the Continental attendants, even though they belonged to a different union as was the case in the American / TWA deal.
At US Air and America West, both flight attendant groups retained all previous seniority at the combined company. Even at non-union Delta where the decision was left to management, all Northwest flight attendants were given credit for seniority on the combined seniority list.
There is irony in APFA’s decision to deny the TWA attendants any seniority. Many of the TWA attendants are directly responsible for some of the benefits APFA enjoys today. The TWA attendants were at the forefront of the labor movement in fighting for pensions, health and safety regulations, the abolition of age and marriage restrictions, gender equality and weight restrictions that transformed a short term job into a career.
The TWA attendants vow to continue their struggle to right the injustice that APFA perpetrated against them.
Clearly, there is no love lost between between the AA APFA members and the ex-TWA members. Will time heal all wounds? After eight years, the wounds are still raw.