At Aerospace Maintenance Competition, Teamster Mechanics Showcase Skills
The MRO Americas Trade Show in Orlando, Fla., is like most trade shows: vendors networking with clients, industry experts giving presentations, free food and free merchandise to lure attendees into buying something. What sets this trade show apart, though, is the best event they have to offer—the Aerospace Maintenance Competition, or AMC.
At the AMC, airline mechanics and technicians from schools, the private sector and the military all compete in a series of timed contests where they perform aircraft maintenance. The reach of the contest is far and wide: mechanics come from over 20 different countries to compete. The winner of each event is the team that performs each task in the fastest time, with time added for any mistakes made.
The AMC was founded by John Goglia, a highly respected industry veteran who became the first airline mechanic to serve on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Goglia has been a friend of the Teamsters Aviation Mechanics Coalition (TAMC) for more than 10 years, and he was the one who first got the Teamsters involved in the competition.
This year, the TAMC and Teamsters Airline Division were sponsors of the event. Goglia is a strong advocate for the role unions play in airline safety. He first became involved in the labor movement at the age of 19, less than a year into his career, when he became shift shop steward. As a member of the NTSB, he served as a hearing officer during the investigation of the 1996 ValuJet Flight 592 crash in Miami, the deadliest accident in Florida to date. Goglia said that one of most frustrating aspects of the investigation was the lack of transparency on the part of the nonunion carrier.
“The company had muzzled all of the employees; no one was able to talk, because they knew if they did, they were going to get fired,” Goglia said. “If it was a union carrier, everything would have been right out on the table immediately. There is no doubt in my mind that unions provide a role in providing safety for the general public, but it’s one of those things that’s invisible, the average person doesn’t even know.”
Passion and Dedication
One thing that becomes readily apparent is the passion and dedication airline mechanics have for their jobs. The high-pressure environment, the challenges of fixing a large machine, the fact that every day is different—all of these were reasons Teamster mechanics gave for why they love what they do.
Marcos Pentol is an aircraft mechanic from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a member of Local 2727. Pentol, a mechanic with 24 years of experience, was competing with the UPS Air Cargo team.
“I love being a member of Local 2727, and I love being a UPS airline mechanic,” Pentol said. “There’s a lot of passionate people working in the general aviation industry. I love the responsibility, I get to challenge myself a lot, I get to work with the latest technology, and I get to work on some of the biggest airplanes in the world. At UPS, we work on more than 100 different types of planes. I really love what I do.”
The mechanics competing stressed the importance of teamwork, both at their jobs and in the event.
“There’s lots of camaraderie in the industry here, and everyone gets along great, it’s exciting,” said Casey Hargadon, Pentol’s teammate on the UPS Air Cargo team. “On the job, teamwork is important because it prevents people from getting hurt; having a second pair of eyes on things prevents mistakes from being made.
None of us have been together on a team before coming here, but we’re all getting along because we’re working together as Teamster brothers.”
Shiva Ramcoobair, a United Airlines mechanic with 11 years on the job, agreed with Hargadon’s sentiment.
“Teamwork is the most important aspect of the job, especially when it comes to safety and getting the job done right,” Ramcoobair said. “We feel happy when we fix problems with an aircraft. It’s a good feeling. It’s comparable to accomplishing a goal. We succeeded in seeing something all the way through, and we get to do it every day.”
Douglas Richie is a United Avionics Technician who’s been a Teamster for 18 years. Richie served as a judge for the AMC, at the Fuel Tank Entry event. During the Fuel Tank Entry event, a mechanic must defuel an airplane by entering the fuel tank via the wing.
Safety is paramount during this procedure. When it is performed on the job, not following all necessary precautions can potentially lead to fuel vapors igniting.
Richie, like a lot of workers in the aviation maintenance industry, got his start in the military. He said that he first started working on aircraft when he chose his Military Occupational Specialty.
“I like working with my hands, I like fixing things, I enjoy being on the move, I enjoy fixing something that’s broken and make it work again,” Richie said. “Teamwork is important in this business; you need to always cover your bases and make sure you’re doing everything properly.”
Richie added that he was glad to be a Teamster member.
“It’s good to have a strong support group that’s nationwide and willing to back you for labor contracts and labor talks,” he said. “The union is always working in our favor to improve the industry, improve our pay and improve our benefits.”
Teamster airline mechanics did very well overall: the UPS Air Cargo team won the Human Factors Test, and the United Airlines team from Cleveland won multiple events, including Best Overall for the entire competition.
If there was one thing that was readily apparent, it’s that the passion and dedication that the mechanics bring to work every day paid big dividends at the AMC.
“I’m incredibly proud to be part of the Teamsters’ efforts,” Goglia said. “The Teamsters Union has been looking forward, and it really understands what’s going on in the industry. When you look at the Teamsters Military Assistance Program, and the other initiatives they’ve put together, they have really earned a place in this business.”