An American Airlines mechanic connects an aircraft to a power source.
The International Association of Machinists and the Transportation Workers Union have beaten back an outsider union’s attempt to raid American Airlines AAL ’ 14,402 mechanics.
The failure of the attempted raid by Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, known as AMFA, was revealed Thursday in an 18-page ruling by the National Mediation Board, which considered 19 AMFA challenges regarding which workers should be included in the bargaining unit.
Currently, American mechanics are represented by an association of the TWU and the IAM. Before a 2013 merger between American and US Airways, TWU represented American mechanics and IAM represented US Airways mechanics.
AMFA, which began its raid in November 2019, represents only mechanics, while IAM and TWU represent not only mechanics but also fleet service workers, flight simulator engineers, cleaners and other groups. AMFA argued that limited representation is better for workers, while IAM and TWU said more workers provide unions with more power in negotiations.
“If organized labor had a court of justice, bottom feeding-AMFA would be charged with high crimes and treason against workers,” TWU President John Samuelsen said late Thursday.
“This is a victory for blue collar workers and also for the security of U.S. airline passengers, because if AMFA had succeeded, a lot of maintenance work would soon be done on foreign soil,” said Samuelsen, referring to an AMFA negotiating practice of trading off some union jurisdiction in return for higher wages.
Sito Pantoja, IAM’s longtime transportation department leader president who now oversees an organizing initiative, said, “This is great for organized labor. The TWU and IAM showed AMFA the exit door at the NMB.
“AMFA is full of rhetoric but offers nothing concrete,” Pantoja said. “We knew from the beginning they didn’t have enough support. They never had enough support on the US Airways and American (properties) and they never will.”
Bret Oestreich, AMFA national director, did not immediately respond to a phone call or an email.
In the ruling, NMB did not specify how many signatures AMFA obtained during its organizing drive. For NMB to conduct an election, AMFA would have needed to obtain signatures from 50% plus one member of the bargaining unit.
Ken MacTiernan, an AMFA organizer, said he questions the NMB decision because AMFA filed 7,755 cards, more than enough to ensure an election. “They have not told us who was not eligible or what cards were removed or why they were removed,” he said.
MacTiernan, an American mechanic in San Diego, also challenged the use of the word “raid” to describe AMFA’s effort. He said that the word “revolt” should be substituted, because AMFA supporters revolted against the association, an umbrella organization of the two elected unions, and then sought out AMFA as a representative.
The effort came just months after the TWU/IAM association negotiated an industry leading $4.2 billion contract covering 31,000 American workers. AMFA began its raid in November 2019 and, because signatures are only valid for a year, faced the risk of losing some if it did not file by November 2020.
In its conclusion, NMB wrote, “The investigation established that AMFA failed to support its application with the required number of authorization cards from the employees in the craft or class. Therefore, the board finds no basis upon which to proceed in this matter and the application is hereby dismissed.”
Besides raising jurisdiction questions, AMFA also alleged that American Airlines interfered in its card collection effort. But the NMB said that “except in extraordinary circumstances, the NMB will only investigate allegations of election interference when filed by participants after the tally,” and that “No extraordinary circumstances are present in this case.”
The NMB investigator found 14,403 potential eligible voters. Despite AMFA’s various objections, the investigator removed just one employee from the list that American submitted.
Perusal of the NMB ruling makes clear some of the complex intricacies of labor law.
On Dec. 4, 2020, American filed a list of 13,213 potential eligible voters, the ruling said. Two names were duplicative, so the number was reduced to 13,211. Then TWU/IAM challenged the list, saying it should include about 2,000 additional workers, including 656 fleet service employees who worked preponderantly in the mechanic craft; 496 furloughed employees; 397 employees who were on “pay continuation status” after selecting a future separation date; 158 employees on authorized leaves of absences; 135 flight simulator engineers and 28 terminated employees who still had pending grievances.
Most of the investigator’s decisions went in favor of TWU/IAM.
One of the jurisdictional disputes involved deceased workers. Of 13 workers alleged to be deceased, one died before the cut-off date, resulting in an uncounted vote, but eight died after the cut-off date, so they remained on the list. Others said that “the mechanics and related craft or class,” as defined by labor law, includes 250 “tow team” employee, engaged in aircraft movement; 177 fleet service workers engaged in deicing work, and 90 fleet service employees engaged in lavatory service.
The NMB generally defined who is included in the mechanics and related employee class in a 1947 case involving National Airlines. In the past 74 years, little about the definitions has changed, the ruling noted.
I have covered airlines since 1989. I was a reporter for six newspapers — Miami Herald, Charlotte Observer, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Toledo Blade and Aberdeen (Wash.)
I have covered airlines since 1989. I was a reporter for six newspapers — Miami Herald, Charlotte Observer, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Toledo Blade and Aberdeen (Wash.) Daily World — and for TheStreet. I also worked for pre-mergers US Airways as staff writer.
My new book, Kenny Riley and Black Union Labor Power in the Port of Charleston, is on sale now. I also co-wrote American Airlines, US Airways and the Creation of the World’s Largest Airline.