An Outlier Union Wants to Raid American Airlines Mechanics
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.
“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.