Unions Solve One of Two Snags Related To Big Airline Merger

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Two unions, the Transport Workers and the Machinists, representing workers at American Airlines and US Airways, which plan to merge, have solved one big snag the proposed combined companies foisted on them, seniority. But the president of Machinists District 142 is objecting to the merger, saying US Airways is ignoring contract negotiations with its own mechanics in favor of romancing American.
The merger would install US Airways management at the combined carrier, but keep bankrupt American’s name at what would be the nation’s largest airline. Federal antitrust authorities must also sign off on the merger.

The first snag, which was solved, involved ground workers at the two carriers. The unions agreed on an integrated combined seniority list.

Seniority would determine which ground workers would remain with the combined carrier, assuming it begins operations in September, the target month that airline management demands.

“TWU believes this agreement will protect the rights of our members and all employees at the merged airline,” said Robert Gless, the union’s deputy director of air transport. “The agreement will also set the stage for a successful merger, long-term job security and quality customer service at the new American Airlines.”

But both unions eventually want to represent all ground workers at the combined carrier. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who does not want a bitter representation campaign between two member unions, is proposing they share the representation.

The second snag is troublesome. Machinists District 142 President Tom Higginbotham says US Airways management neglects its mechanics, whom his district represents, while talking merger with American. To prove the point, District 142 staged a protest during American’s “media day” in Phoenix on April 24.

US Airways’ stalling has gone on so long that IAM asked the National Mediation Board (NMB), which rules airline labor-management relations, for required permission to end mediation. “Federal law dictates what happens when a carrier refuses to engage in meaningful bargaining,” Higginbotham told the latest Machinist. “The dispute moves from the bargaining table to the street. It is time for NMB to authorize that next step.” IAM in February said it would oppose the merger unless contracts are reached, first.

A third union involved, the Communications Workers, supports the merger. It would give CWA a second chance to unionize American’s passenger service agents. American’s anti-union management narrowly defeated CWA earlier this year.