The fight is for a strong, unified negotiating position against the largest airline, not against each other.
Following up on AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s suggestion to the IAM and TWU to work towards a mutually acceptable alternative to a representation battle at the new American Airlines, both unions have been putting their best efforts into finding an answer. Both unions are members of the AFL-CIO and as such have a common interest in expanding and improving organized labor. President Trumka’s message focused on the fact that after an expensive and emotional battle between the unions, if a representation election is held, not a single new or unorganized member would join the winning union. In other words, after all the cost, arguments, permanently hurt feelings, and negative campaigning the number of union members would not change, just the logo would. Good intentioned representatives of both unions are looking for another way to bring quality representation to the employees of what will become the world’s largest airline. The success or failure of this joint problem solving effort will have an effect on airline employees at other carriers, whether they belong to a union or not. A strong, unified negotiating position against the largest airline will strengthen and improve the futures of everyone in coming negotiations.
It was discouraging this past week to see that not all unions view this situation as a time to come together as organized labor do what is best for working people. The Teamsters union petitioned the NMB this week to hold an investigation and possibly an election among the Mechanic and Related classifications of USAirways. This type of representation election is exactly what President Trumka was warning about. Even if they are successful in this election, the IBT will not have increased the number of organized workers nor will they have strengthened the solidarity among mechanics. They will only guarantee that more representation elections will have to be held in the future and the fracturing of members will continue, to the benefit of the airlines.
Preparations to return to negotiations at United Airlines
Preparations to return to negotiations at United Airlines continued this past week. It has been more than a month since the IAM and United jointly petitioned the National Mediation Board for their services in our negotiations. To date there has been no response from the Board. There has been no mediator assigned to our talks and therefore no schedule created to resume. Our desire is to return to talks and find a solution to the issues that have prevented us from reaching an agreement with United that is acceptable to our membership. We want to follow the rules of the NMB but we also think productive talks could be held between the company and Union even if a mediator was not available. We want to discuss this possibility with United and if they agree we believe talks could restart. The establishing of a survey system that is secure and accurate is taking more time than is acceptable. We believe we could reenter talks and have meaningful discussions on several major issues without waiting for a full, detailed survey of members; but use the results of a survey to reinforce the importance of, or identify, issues that have to be addressed before another agreement is reached.
USAirways negotiation update:
USAirways negotiations, originally scheduled for last week, were postponed but will resume the first week of June in Chicago. Although we are still far apart from the company concerning issues of compensation and benefits, our recent agreements with them regarding seniority integrations and job protection for line stations indicate that progress can be made. As the expected date of merger comes closer the need to reach an agreement for USAirways members becomes critical. We look forward to the June sessions to see if true progress can be made.
125 years of Union Representation:
This week the IAM turns 125 years old. Having its start in the railroad industry, before the invention of the airplane, the IAM is the longest standing labor union in the transportation industry. Like the evolution of the industries the IAM represents, our Union has seen many changes and has adapted to technology improvements and the dynamics of moving people and goods from point to point. The IAM has remained vital to those working in transportation and other industries because of its ability to react to the demands placed on its members by the corporations it represents. That is as true today as it has ever been in the 125 year history of our Union. As airline workers we are currently facing the effects of the consolidation craze. The urge to merge is a result of the previous industry phase of declaring bankruptcy for profit, which was predated by the “Workers with Board Seats” experiment, that was a result of the chaotic mess brought on by deregulating the airline industry. It is odd to think that the original intent of deregulation was to increase competition among air carriers. That idea is being stepped on as the largest airlines work out deals to combine instead of compete and leave the “competition” to the employees’ unions, as they fight for survival. Members at the New United, previous employees of legacy carriers and members of different unions, are feeling the effect of this “competition” today. Our members at USAirways are facing the same competitive future as the merger of American and USAirways moves toward completion. In a letter to the leaders of the unions representing employees at both airlines (posted on District 141’s website), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlined the issue of today – two unions fighting over each other’s members. His suggestion to find an alternative to a costly and bitter representation battle may or may not happen but it is an example of how unions like ours have to adapt to change. As airlines get bigger and stronger and more profitable by merging and forming partnerships with each other, like the Star Alliance, it may be time for unions, including the IAM, to consider doing the same. That is how organizations stay relevant for 125 years and longer.
United Airlines purchases planes for United Express to fly:
It has not only been mergers that have impacted airline employees and union members. The ever increasing use of outside contractors to perform basic work for airlines is a constant threat. This not only applies to airlines, including United and USAirways, using vendors to perform ground handling functions but, more importantly, the use of vendor airlines to fly significant portions of the flight schedule. This was a critical component of the recently rejected tentative agreement with United and will need to be readdressed when negotiations resume. The announcement this past week by United of their commitment to purchase new Embraer 175 regional jets brings more importance to the issue. The company has declared they will begin receiving the first of 30 aircraft in 2014. These RJ’s will have first class, economy plus, and coach seating and will carry 76 passengers. The company also announced that although United was purchasing the aircraft they intended to lease them to a regional carrier, to be named later, to actually operate them. The company’s ability to expand the payload of regional jets on routes that are either currently operated by United Express or could replace currently scheduled mainline trips is an obvious threat to IAM members.
Pensions are not gifts from employers but deferred wages:
The issue of the future of defined benefit pension plans was addressed this past week by our Intnerational President Tom Buffenbarger, in a letter to President Obama. The reason for his letter was the recent proposal made by some to allow pension plans to cut the monthly benefits of current retirees in an effort to keep poorly funded pension plans going. This proposal is supported by some unions, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, whose pension plans are dangerously underfunded. The proposal would allow a multi-employer plan that is underfunded to an unacceptable level to stop paying retirees what they are owed and in some cases reduce their monthly benefit by 66%. Naturally, the question has been raised if this could happen to the IAM National Pension Fund. That was the purpose of President Buffenbarger’s letter. The Trustees of our pension plan took action a few years ago to prevent future underfunding problems by slowing the increase of future benefit levels, without touching the accrued benefit of already retired members. By doing this the IAM plan is now 103% funded and is considered one of the most secure pension plans, in addition to being one of the largest. President Buffenbarger’s point in his letter was to push for stronger funding requirements of other plans rather than allow poorly managed funds to cut benefits for retirees and possibly threaten healthy plans in the future. This proposal targets multi-employer plans, not single company plans like CARP. The company just published the funding status of CARP and declared it was 86% funded, by the accepted actuarial calculations. They also noted that on a fair market value calculation the fund had twice as much liability as assets.
US Airways -