TWU members split on American’s final bankruptcy offer; customer service agents press on with union election

The Transport Workers Union announced Tuesday, May 15 that five of its seven American Airlines bargaining units had voted to accept American’s final offer on a new contract. American declared bankruptcy in November and in March filed a proposal with the bankruptcy court to terminate its union contracts and implement a new contract that would eliminate thousands of jobs, reduce benefits, and alter work rules.

In a related development, the bankruptcy judge on Wednesday, May 16 ruled against American’s non-union customer service agents who had requested a temporary injunction to prevent American from implementing drastic wage, benefit, and working condition cuts before the agents have a chance to vote in a union representation election. The agents, however, pressed forward with their election campaign.

TWU, which represents more than 20,000 American ground crew staff, had been negotiating with the company since March on a new contract that would replace American’s proposal to the bankruptcy court.

In April, American made its final offer. TWU leaders said it was an improvement over the original proposal but still contained decimating job cuts and work rule changes. The union’s leadership didn’t agree to the final offer but decided to let the membership vote on it.

“Our goal from the start has been to create options for our members and to give our members a voice in the bankruptcy process,” said James Little, TWU president. “The bankruptcy courts are designed to protect assets not people. Some of our members found the company’s last offer to be a safer bet than waiting on the court to make a decision. The members in bargaining units that voted ‘no’ thought the proposals were not in their best interests. We respect our members decision regardless of how they voted.”

The two groups that voted “no” were the Maintenance and Related Services unit, 56 percent of whom voted “no,” and  the Stores Clerks, 51 percent of whom voted “no.”

Gary Peterson, president of TWU Local 565, which represents mechanics, stores clerks, and related ground crew at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, opposed the company’s final offer because its guarantees were so weak.

“This agreement did not provide any job protection, and American would have the ability over time to outsource those jobs (preserved by the final offer) as well,” Peterson said to WFAA.

Of all the TWU members who voted, 51 percent voted “yes,” 49 percent voted “no.”

The final offer accepted by the five bargaining units will not go into effect until the judge makes a final ruling on American’s proposal, which is expected to take place on or after June 6.

TWU will continue to represent the units that voted “no” in the bankruptcy court.

The judge’s ruling on May 16 rejecting the non-union customer service agents’ request for a temporary injunction will not affect the workers’ campaign for union representation, said a statement released by the Communication Workers of America, which is supporting the agents in bankruptcy court and helping them form a union.

American has tried to block the union election. Most recently, it ignored an order by the National Mediation Board, which oversees union representation elections in the transportation industry, to provide the NMB with the names and addresses of customer service agents eligible to vote in the upcoming union election.

On Tuesday, pro-union agents and CWA staff carried by hand and delivered labels with the names and addresses of about 10,000 agents eligible for the election to the NMB and urged it to move forward with the election.

“American Airlines employees must be afforded their right to choose union representation in a free election,” CWA President Larry Cohen said in the accompanying letter to NMB General Counsel Mary L. Johnson. “The timing of the election is particularly critical in this situation, as American Airlines is in bankruptcy and is using that proceeding to make immediate, structural and life changing decisions about passenger service agents.”

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