U.S.: Mechanics' victory at United Airlines, by Malik Miah

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Aug 13 18:58:46 MDT 2003

UNITED STATES: Mechanics' victory at United Airlines

SAN FRANCISCO — In a stunning victory for mechanics and related
employees at United Airlines, on July 14 the Aircraft Mechanics'
Fraternal Association (AMFA) replaced the International Association of
Machinists (IAM) as their union. The victory came after a campaign by
rank-and-file unionists in response to the failed policies of the
incumbent union. United Airlines is the world's second largest air

AMFA now represents more mechanics in the US airline industry than any
other trade union. It also represents airline mechanics employed by
Northwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and, in January, AMFA won
certification at Southwest Airlines. With mechanics at United
Airlines, AMFA represents more than 20,000 active mechanics and
related workers. It is in the middle of volunteer organising campaigns
at American Airlines (the world's largest carrier), Delta, US Airways
and American West.

The vote at United was not close. Of the 13,144 eligible voters, 5234
(63.5%) voted for AMFA, while 2992 (34%) voted for the IAM, which has
been at the airline since 1945. The voting eligibility list included
thousands of laid-off employees and non-union salaried employees added
to the list two years ago with the IAM's support.

The internal revolt (AMFA does not use outside organisers) was led by
mechanics who were fed up with the concessions made to management by
the IAM leaders and the lack of union democracy. Secrecy was the
officials' motto as they talked more to management than to their own
dues-paying members. Decisions were made behind the members' backs and
they had to follow the rumour mills and company propaganda to learn
their fate.

The incumbents became close partners with top management as
concessions were wrung from the workers — first under the misguided
Employee Stock Ownership Plan in 1994, which gave workers shares that
are now virtually worthless with United Airlines in bankruptcy. The
workers' contract became almost meaningless as management imposed its
will and subcontracted out more and more of their work.

The final nail in the IAM's coffin occurred on April 30 when, under
the gun of the bankruptcy court, a new contract was signed containing
massive concessions by the union. The next day, after the pact was
approved, the certification election was announced.

AMFA rejects secret negotiations and the signing any “letters of
confidentiality” with management. AMFA does not promise a quick
reversal of the setbacks that United workers have suffered. It can't.
The aim is to first close the barn door and stop the erosion of the

Based on AMFA's democratic principles and philosophy of treating
members with respect, the mechanics and related workers are ready to
stand up and fight for a better future at the airline.

[Malik Miah is a member of AMFA Local 9's San Francisco Transition
Committee and interim area representative for the components shops,
which represents 4600 members.]

>From Green Left Weekly, August 13, 2003.
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