Communications Workers-Teamsters Coalition Scores Big Win at Merged American Airlines

WASHINGTON (PAI)–A joint coalition of the Communications Workers and the Teamsters scored a big win – especially in the anti-union South – among customer service representatives at the new, merged and larger American Airlines.


The reps at the airline, a combination of the former American and the former US Airways, voted 9,612-1,547 for representation by the joint CWA-IBT Association, the National Mediation Board said on Sept. 17.  The board, which handles labor-management relations at airlines and railroads, said 28 workers voted for other unions and that the merged airline employs 13,962 customer service reps.


The two unions’ joint association has existed for nine years, after earlier airline mergers led them to work together.  US Airways agents have been CWA members since 2000, but when that airline took over America West in 2005, it inherited passenger service agents there who had organized with the Teamsters the year before.

After the latest merger, of US Airways and American last year, the association campaigned to jointly represent all customer service reps at the new carrier.  The old American’s customer service reps were non-union.


Key issues in the organizing drive were outsourcing, job security, fair work rules and having a strong contract, Teamsters President James Hoffa said.  Without representation, agents were laid off, jobs were outsourced and those agents who remained lost pay and benefits when the old American filed for bankruptcy in 2011, he pointed out.


The Teamsters will add 1,300 members to the 1,800 they already had in western states.  CWA will represent up to 9,000 in the East.  It’s been campaigning to get them for 19 years.  The East-West agreement set up in 2005 will continue, spokesmen for both unions said.


But, regardless of which side of the Mississippi River the customer service reps live in, or which carrier they used to work for, most of the reps, including call center reps and those who work from home, live in the South, notably Texas and North Carolina.  Cracking the anti-union South is important to the labor movement’s future.


“The merger between American Airlines and US Airways is an exciting time for all of us. But even more exciting is our victory today,” Richard Shaughnessy, a 27-year reservations agent in Miami, told CWA. “We’re the front line employees who interact with our customers every day, and we are looking forward to a positive relationship with management to make this merger ‘work’ for all of us.  We are anxious to get to the bargaining table.”


“We feel stronger now with this vote,” added Eula Smith, a customer service agent in Charlotte. “I’m a 60-year-old woman with 42 years with this employer,” US Airways.  “You can’t live in the South and make a decent wage unless you are in senior management in a corporation or belong to a union.  We need this.  We need not just a union, we need CWA.”


“With our partners in CWA, the Teamsters are leading the way in protecting airline professionals involved in the biggest airline merger in history,” said Hoffa.  “Our union is dedicated to fighting on behalf of workers in this volatile industry.  Our new members at the combined American-US Airways now have two of the strongest airline unions in their corner.”


“It should not be lost on the pundits that most of the new union members work in Southern states,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.  “The right to a voice at work doesn’t have a geographic predisposition, and this victory will energize ongoing organizing efforts in the South.”   The Communications Workers are a leading AFL-CIO union, while the Teamsters are one of the top two unions in Change To Win.