An Outlier Union Wants to Raid American Airlines Mechanics

 In Air

Nine months after two unions joint­ly secured an indus­try-lead­ing con­tract for American Airlines mechan­ics and fleet ser­vice work­ers, an out­lier labor union is seek­ing to raid the mechan­ics.

Raids, where one union seeks to enroll work­ers already rep­re­sent­ed by anoth­er union, are for­bid­den by the AFL-CIO.

But Aurora, Co.-based Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association is not among the 56 unions in the orga­ni­za­tion. It gen­er­al­ly gains its mem­ber­ship – pri­mar­i­ly the 2,700 mechan­ics at Southwest, who were for­mer­ly Teamsters – through raids.

AMFA’s creed holds that air­craft mechan­ics are better off when they sep­a­rate them­selves from other work­ers and from the other unions that typ­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent air­line employ­ees.

Currently, the approx­i­mate­ly 12,000 American Airlines mechan­ics are rep­re­sent­ed by the two largest air­line indus­try unions, the International Association of Machinists and the Transportation Workers Union. (About 7.400 are TWU mem­bers.)

Although they are sep­a­rate, the two unions joined togeth­er to nego­ti­ate the January con­tract, which covers about 31,000 work­ers in five work groups. Mechanics rat­i­fied by 91%.

Under the con­tract, skilled air­craft mechan­ics gen­er­al­ly earn $100,000 annu­al­ly or more. Monthly union dues are twice the hourly wage.

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“AMFA is trying to raid us,” TWU President John Samuelsen said in an inter­view. “Their whole exis­tence is pred­i­cat­ed on raid­ing other unions.

“We fought our asses off to secure a really solid con­tract from American Airlines,” Samuelsen said. “We won a solid vic­to­ry and cor­rect­ed years of damage between bank­rupt­cies and pre­vi­ous con­ces­sions. We actu­al­ly ful­filled the promis­es we made as lead­er­ship.

“There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that AMFA could have secured that con­tract, which is a prime exam­ple of the power that indus­tri­al unions can bring to bear on a com­pa­ny like American,” Samuelsen said.

Despite the con­tract, Samuelsen said, AMFA saw the advent of the coro­n­avirus crisis “as a great moment in time to pounce, in the bottom feed­ing manner they are accus­tomed to, at a moment in time when the coun­try was in crisis.

“Being under one big umbrel­la, not sep­a­rat­ed into craft unions – that is where the power is,” he said.

On its web­site and Facebook page, AMFA empha­sizes that it is “a craft spe­cif­ic, inde­pen­dent avi­a­tion union (that) rep­re­sents only air­craft main­te­nance tech­ni­cians and relat­ed employ­ees in the craft or class.”  The union rep­re­sents mechan­ics at Alaska, Horizon and Southwest.

AMFA “is com­mit­ted to ele­vat­ing the pro­fes­sion­al stand­ing of tech­ni­cians and to achiev­ing pro­gres­sive improve­ments in the wages, ben­e­fits, and work­ing con­di­tions of the skilled crafts­men and women it rep­re­sents,” the union said.

AMFA offi­cials did not respond last week to phone calls or to con­tact attempts on Facebook. However, last week Ken MacTiernan, a Mactier nan San-Diego based AMFA orga­niz­er and American mechan­ic, respond­ed in a YouTube video to a recent Samuelsen video.

MacTiernan said AMFA is not raid­ing American mechan­ics because some of those mechan­ics had con­tact­ed AMFA. “You use this raid­ing card like a bull­fight­er raises his cape,” MacTiernan told Samuelsen. 

MacTiernan said he object­ed to the cre­ation of the asso­ci­a­tion that bar­gained the con­tract. He said mechan­ics had not approved the joint bar­gain­ing.

Sito Pantoja, IAM gen­er­al vice pres­i­dent for trans­porta­tion, said AMFA’s approach to con­tracts has repeat­ed­ly been to seek pay increas­es and to trade off ben­e­fits and job pro­tec­tions, known as scope, which extend union juris­dic­tion.

“This is music to a company’s ears: ‘Let me do work in China, and I can get rid of half the people,” said Pantoja, a former TWA mechan­ic. 

For instance, Pantoja said, in its recent­ly nego­ti­at­ed con­tract with Southwest, AMFA traded off main­te­nance work in Hawaii for pay raises. By con­trast, the 2019 American Airlines con­tract added 15 more sta­tions where union mechan­ics ser­vice air­craft, bring­ing the total to 26.

In 2007 Pantoja, then a stu­dent at the National Labor College, wrote a paper on AMFA, noting that between 1962 and 1994, AMFA sought to raid AFL-CIO prop­er­ties about two dozen times.

“By using its well-prac­ticed sales pitch of telling mechan­ics what they wanted to hear and cast­ing ‘Organized Labor’ in the role of the enemy, the AMFA has deceived unwary mechan­ics into believ­ing they can pro­duce much higher wages and ben­e­fits,” Pantoja wrote.

AMFA’s biggest mechan­ic elec­tion wins came at Northwest in 1999 and United in 2003: In both cases, AMFA ousted the IAM.  At United, after a 2007 union elec­tion, Teamsters replaced AMFA as the mechan­ics’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

At Northwest, AMFA mechan­ics staged a strike in 2005. By that time, out­sourc­ing and down­siz­ing due to bank­rupt­cy had reduced their number from 9,500 to 4,100. In the failed strike, anoth­er 3,000 mechan­ic jobs were elim­i­nat­ed.  “If AMFA came to American Airlines, we would prob­a­bly lose half the work force,” Pantoja said.

Forbes: Aerospace & Defense source|articles

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