In the largest airline organizing victory this year, 15,000 passenger service professionals at the newly-merged American-US Airways voted in September to join the CWA-IBT Customer Service Employee Association. The joint effort to organize passenger service agents was led by Communication Workers of American (CWA) which will represent about 7,500 new members; 1,300 new members will be represented by the Teamsters Airline Division.
“We are honored to represent passenger service agents at the new American Airlines,” said Teamsters Airline Division Director David Bourne. “The Teamsters Airline Division is committed to providing American Airlines employees and our existing members at US Airways with strong representation as both airlines continue to integrate in this merger.”
With the successful organizing drive, the existing union for passenger service agents at US Airways, represented by both Teamsters and CWA, has the added muscle of new members from American, giving labor a stronger hand to protect jobs as the new American Airlines takes shape.
“I can’t tell you how great this victory is for us. American Airlines customer service agents have tried for 20 years to gain representation and the merger with US Airways allowed the Teamsters to step in and bring home a win,” said Debra Ewing, a 15-year US Airways agent in Phoenix, Ariz. and a third-generation Teamster.
Agents at both airlines voted over the phone and online in a month-long election administered by the National Mediation Board. On September 16 it was announced that workers had voted overwhelmingly for the CWA-IBT Association by a 6-to-1 margin.
“With our partners in CWA, the Teamsters are leading the way in protecting airline professionals involved in the biggest airline merger in history. Our union is dedicated to fighting on behalf of workers in this volatile industry. Our new members at the combined American-US Airways now have two of the strongest airline unions in their corner,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa.
Prior to its merger with American Airlines, US Airways’ passenger service agents were represented by CWA in the east with approximately 4,700 members and by the Teamsters in the west with about 1,800 members. The shared representation was the result of US Airways’ merger in 2005 with America West Airlines, whose customer service agents were Teamsters. US Airways’ latest merger with American Airlines, whose agents were nonunion, led to an election to determine representation for all agents at the newly-merged carrier.
American Airlines agents who have won representation for the first time are concerned about outsourcing, job security, fair work rules and having a strong contract.
The agents know from experience how vulnerable they are without representation.
American’s 2011 bankruptcy led to layoffs, outsourced job titles, and sharp cuts in pay and benefits for those who kept their jobs.
“Nineteen years ago, a handful of agents started a drive to obtain representation for American Airlines airport and reservations agents,” said Janet Elston, an American Airlines agent in Dallas. “Many hundreds of activists spent thousands of hours over the years to get us to the election. We have finally achieved what most thought was impossible: union representation for our work group.”
Agents at US Airways have enjoyed strong representation for years and are looking forward to having an even stronger voice in the merger process with 9,000 new agents at American strengthening their association.
“Having Teamster representation has made all the difference for customer service agents in our industry,” said Lisa Kohler, a 32-year agent at US Airways in Houston. “Thanks to the protection we have as Teamsters with a strong contract, we’re not worried. When US Airways and American combine seniority lists, we know we have seniority protection based on language in our contract and clear recall rights.”