Insurgent unions say they're winning TWU converts among American Airlines mechanics
BY D.R. STEWART World Staff Writer
Friday, July 13, 2012
7/13/12 at 5:51 AM
See previous stories about American Airlines and its Tulsa operations.
Several weeks into organizing drives among American Airlines mechanics, two insurgent aircraft mechanics unions are winning converts among members of the Transport Workers Union, officials say.
Representatives of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said their success is due to widespread dissatisfaction among American mechanics in Tulsa and throughout American's system.
To call for a union representation election, AMFA or the Teamsters must get signed authorization cards from 50 percent plus one of American's 11,000 mechanics and related work groups, officials said.
AMFA is holding an informational meeting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 3332 S. 79th East Ave., to discuss the union's philosophy, history and craft unions versus industrial unions.
Among the complaints mechanics voice about the TWU are the concessionary contracts agreed to by the union in 2003, American's bankruptcy filing in November and its demands for further job and benefit cuts as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan, officials said.
But TWU executives say there are no solutions in jumping ship.
Frank McCann, TWU's director of organizing, said AMFA's track record isn't memorable: losing thousands of mechanics jobs in a 15-month strike at Northwest Airlines, being voted in by United Airlines mechanics in 2003 and voted out in 2008.
"AMFA's activities in Tulsa are counterproductive and a disservice to workers," McCann said. "During these difficult times, we should be standing as one and not creating disunity."
AMFA sympathizers say they want to be in a union that just represents mechanics rather than belonging to a large industrial union that also represents automobile mechanics, baggage handlers and other work groups.
"There are two competing unions engaged in card drives at AA for the mechanic craft and class," said Dan McCoy, a 25-year mechanic at the M&E base. "AMFA is popular with the (airport) line stations but weak in Tulsa. The Teamsters are popular in Tulsa but weak with the line stations. This divide makes getting over 50 percent of the cards required for an election challenging for either competing union."
Dave Stewart, an AMFA organizer at American's Maintenance & Engineering Center, which employs 5,600 mechanics in Tulsa, said the evidence of the TWU's less-than-stellar performance since 2003 is the facts.
"We have lost two maintenance bases - Kansas City, and AFW (Alliance Airport, Fort Worth) by the end of the year - and our head count has gone from 18,000 (mechanics and related) in 2003" to about 11,000 today, Stewart said. "For 60 years, the industrial unions, including the Teamsters, the International Association of Machinists and the TWU, have represented the majority of aircraft mechanics in the industry.
"Our jobs have been outsourced overseas, our head counts are being decimated, our pay and benefits are being reduced, and, most of all, our profession is worse than stagnant. Aircraft mechanics used to be a proud group. Now we are telling our sons and daughters not to go into aviation because we don't think there is a future in it."
TWU and airline executives say the industry has experienced its worst decade in history.
The terrorist attacks of 2001 were followed by a recession, a travel slump, record fuel prices and the Wall Street collapse of 2008, industry executives said.
Nearly every major U.S. airline has filed for bankruptcy over the past 12 years.
In its bankruptcy, American said it must cut at least 11,000 jobs, including more than 4,000 mechanics - 2,000 of them in Tulsa - and achieve 17 percent labor cost savings among TWU work groups. The company said it must reduce labor costs by $1.25 billion a year and overall costs by $2 billion annually. American also said it must increase revenue $1 billion a year to emerge from bankruptcy and compete successfully in the airline industry.
Steve Harmening, an American mechanic for 19 years and an AMFA supporter, said he wants open and transparent contract negotiations that are part of AMFA's process.
"In the TWU, there are all these deals going on that nobody can verify," Harmening said. "TWU negotiators don't have to live with the terms of the contracts they negotiate."
William Wheeler, a 27-year mechanic in Tulsa, said he supports the Teamsters because they represent 18,000 aircraft mechanics at 10 airlines. He also likes the fact that the Teamsters offer a license protection program that shields mechanics from liability for work performed.
"Right now, we don't have anyone protecting our back," Wheeler said. "Many people are in the same boat as I am. We feel we haven't had solid representation for the skilled labor, and we are ready to move on."
Don Rodgers, an American mechanic at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, a member of TWU Local 565 and an AMFA supporter, said the left-wing politics and industrial unionism of the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and the IAM have been an "unmitigated disaster" over the past 60 years.
"A third of Americans were in unions in 1955, and 1 in 10 is today," Rodgers said. "So tell me the industrial unions have been successful. I can't do a damn thing about what the corporations do, but I can do something about what the unions do.
"And changing from the 300-pound gorilla of the TWU to the 500-pound gorilla of the Teamsters will not fix the problem."
Informational meeting, Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association
When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: Embassy Suites Hotel,
3332 S. 79th East Ave.
Agenda: Craft unionism compared
with industrial unionism, the
origins of AMFA in the airline industry,
causes for optimism about
the future of aircraft maintenance
Source: Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association
Original Print Headline: Unions say they've got some TWU converts
D.R. Stewart 918-581-8451
An American Airlines plane arrives at Tulsa International Airport. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World