AA Passenger Service Agents Win Back Right to Organize
October 5, 2012 7:48 am
About a year ago, American Airlines (AA) filed for bankruptcy with $4 billion in the bank. The airline has continued to make news since then for its bellicose stance against its employee unions. A spate of recent flight delays have been blamed on acrimonious contract talks with pilots, but AA also attempted to block 10,000 passenger service agents from organizing.
A June ruling from district court stated that new rules requiring a 50 percent union authorization vote applied retroactively to the passenger service agents. Yesterday brought good news for the agents in limbo — a 5th Circuit appeals judge overturned the previous ruling, which should allow for another election and bring them a step closer to a union.
The Communication Workers of America, who are seeking to represent the 10,000 agents’ interests with the embattled airline, issued a celebratory press release which reads:
Now, the National Mediation Board can go forward with the election process that had been wrongly denied American Airlines passenger service agents since they filed for union representation in December 2011. Those employees finally will have the opportunity to exercise their legal right to vote on union representation…
Passenger service agents look forward to the NMB setting a new election date as soon as possible.
The appeals court ruled that the intervention of Bush-appointed District Judge Terry Means was inappropriate. They also said that the National Mediation Board (who were overseeing the election) had not made any “egregious error” in supervising the union vote.
A letter from Laura Einspanier, Vice President of AA Employee Relations, indicated that the airline was not slowing down in its attempt to jam up the works for the union:
Within a few minutes of this ruling, the CWA sent text messages to many of our people suggesting that an election has already been granted and is necessarily imminent. Please be aware that, while an election may indeed be called in the future, a number of potential legal, procedural, and voting eligibility issues remain that now will need to be addressed.
The agents need a union — they are dealing with a bankrupt company who has taken an oppositional stance to organized labor and used the recent bankruptcy filing to press for wage cuts and the cancellation of contracts. They have even asked current employees to train non-unionized replacements.
Ed Wytkind, President of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trade Department spoke on the dangers of dealing with the bankrupt airline without the protection of a union in June:
They are dead without a union voice. All the other work groups at American Airlines have a union. They have gone toe-to-toe with these companies during bankruptcy and the company hasn’t been able to break a single one of their contracts in court. The Passenger Service Agents are on their own. These workers are now being asked to fend for themselves.
Wednesday, the 5th Circuit gave them a fighting chance.
Image from here