American, US Airways flight attendant unions squabbling

11/20/2013 6:35 PM

11/21/2013 7:21 AM

The merger of American Airlines and US Airways hasn’t closed, and unions at the two carriers are already squabbling.

Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants at American, revealed the discord Wednesday in an open letter to Roger Holmin, president of US Airways’ flight attendant union. In the letter, she said the Association of Flight Attendants wants to throw away months of integration and contract negotiations and force a battle over union representation.

“I’m not willing to hit the reset button on their unreasonable demands,” Glading told the Star-Telegram.

Glading said she received a letter from Holmin on Friday that included an ultimatum that union at American consider a new proposal from the US Airways union instead of an integration proposal the two sides had been working on for months. The two unions along with management from both airlines had reached an eight-point agreement on integration in May, but talks to finalize the language fell apart in the summer as the US Airways union held internal elections, she said.

“The synergy of this merger can only be realized if we come together, and I’m not going to engage in their petty politics,” Glading said.

In an update on negotiations sent to US Airways union members Wednesday, it said it is proposing a merger of the two unions and joint negotiations to reach a single contract agreement for all flight attendants.

“US Airways management negotiated a process with APFA for reaching a single agreement which shut out the input and experiences of 8,000 US Airways flight attendants,” the update said. “This exclusionary process not only squanders an opportunity to gain an industry-leading contract, but wipes out solid contract language which governs our day-to-day working lives now and for years to come.”

The unions had planned to meet in New York on Nov. 27, two days after a bankruptcy judge has scheduled a hearing to approve the carriers’ antitrust settlement with the Justice Deparatment. But Holmin said in a letter to members Wednesday afternoon that the talks have broken off.

American and US Airways both declined to comment on the union discussions. The airlines hope to have the merger completed by mid-December.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants represents 18,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, and the Association of Flight Attendants represents about 8,000 flight attendants at US Airways. After the merger, the union at American has said, it plans to file with government regulators to represent the flight attendants at the combined carrier.

Since that union has more than 50 percent of the flight attendants who will work at the combined carrier, it does not need to collect authorization cards from members to hold a representation vote. The US Airways union, however, would need to collect cards from more than 50 percent of the members for that union to be placed on the representation ballot. The vote would be conducted by the National Mediation Board.

Hudson Crossing travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said that it is disconcerting to see the two unions fighting and that negotiations over contract terms and seniority integration should have been held while the carriers were awaiting government approval of the merger.

“When these disputes occur, it’s best to keep them private,” Harteveldt said. “When they boil over into the public realm, that’s when the traveler and the travel buyer gets nervous and that’s what could undermine confidence in the new airline.”

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