Volume 21, Number 3
Tiffany Ten eyck
Worst Places To Be Black
Mass Destruction U.
Global Recession I
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Stealth Election at the TWU
Z MAGAZINE ONLINE-ONLY ARTICLE
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) was locked in a major fight for union recognition at Continental Airlines in early January 2008. Unfortunately, few noticed. This was not surprising. With so much national attention focused on the New Hampshire, Nevada, and Michigan primaries, the TWU bid to organize 7,700 baggage handlers flew under the radar.
Nonetheless, for Continental employees who suffered almost 10 percent wage cuts in 2005, the union election promise of change was more than an empty campaign tag. Unfor- tunately, it was a failed opportunity. The TWU narrowly lost by a 314 vote margin in its third bid in as many years. A reported 3,517 employees voted for the union, but this figure was still painfully shy of the high bar required by the Railway Labor Act (RLA) that 50 percent plus one of eligible employees must vote.
Quite differently, National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) election results are based on the number of votes tallied and do not require a majority to cast ballots. It is the same for all local, state, and federal elections in the United States. As a result, not voting in RLA union-representation elections is the same as voting “no.” This is because not voting subtracts from the goal of achieving the elusive majority of active and furloughed employees who must participate in the election.
Continental ramp workers remain among the largest non-union group of airline workers, along with 6,000 baggage handlers at Delta who have long been targeted for organizing by the International Association of Machinists (IAM). Both Delta and Continental are major players in highly publicized merger talks with union-represented carriers Northwest and United. This prospect raises both big opportunities and serious risks for airline labor.
Combining union and non-union workforces is governed by a complex RLA procedure which involves determining which is the “surviving or single carrier” that ultimately arises from a merger, and/or if there is “comparable” size between the combining union and non-union work groups. How these questions are answered will determine whether an RLA union-recognition election is scheduled or whether union recognition is extended automatically because of a clear union majority among the combined workforces. Accordingly, unions have both benefited and suffered from such situations.
Most recently, IAM membership was extended without an election to about 3,500 America West fleet service/mechanic employees when their carrier merged with the larger “surviving, single carrier” US Airways. This was because US Airways had a larger IAM-represented workforce. However, thousands of union workers lost recognition in 1986 when a majority of eligible employees failed to vote in an RLA election scheduled after PSA and Piedmont combined with then USAir.
As evidenced by the recent loss at Continental, a vote for union recognition among airline employees today risks elimination of unions if less than the required 50 percent plus one fail to vote. This is a frightening, but potentially realistic prospect given the demoralization and frustration among airline workers who have suffered enormous blows over the last five years.
The IAM and TWU understand that successful organizing at non-union carriers like Continental and Delta would certainly lower the risks. But it appears more likely that mergers between union and non-union airlines will come first. As an example, if RLA union recognition elections are scheduled at NWA and United because of a merger with Delta and Continental respectively, the very big risks illustrated by the recent TWU loss will also be accompanied by the simultaneously very big opportunities to expand the scope of union labor. Case in point: the America West merger with US Airways.
If an election scenario does unfold due to mergers, expect a full-out national campaign by the major international transportation unions to retain and expand collective bargaining rights among airline workers. Currently, among the best organized workers in the private sector, airline union workers may be looking ahead to the fight of their lives.
Carl Finamore is a freelance writer on union/labor issues and president of IAMAW Local Lodge 1781.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.