Sky Talk

American Airlines flight attendants elect new union president

Newly-elected APFA president Bob Ross.
Newly-elected APFA president Bob Ross. Courtesy of Bob Ross

For 33 years, flight attendant Bob Ross has served American Airlines passengers, making sure all of their needs were met during a flight.

As the newly elected president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, Ross said he is now focused on meeting the needs of the 25,000 flight attendants at American.

“I, like most of the people, just finally got fed up ... not feeling like we were being properly represented by our union,” said Ross, who was elected last week. “They want to have a union president that is just like them.”

Ross is a Los Angeles-based international flight attendant who lives near Sacramento, Calif., with his wife, a retired flight attendant, and their two children. He won 70 percent of the 11,533 votes cast in the union election. Ross’ four-year term begins on April 1.

He replaces interim President Marcus Gluth, who stepped in after longtime leader Laura Glading resigned in October. Glading led the union during American’s bankruptcy reorganization and subsequent merger with US Airways but was criticized for negotiating away profit-sharing during talks with American’s new management team.

In an interview with the Star-Telegram, Ross said one of his first goals is to unite the flight attendants and ease tensions that have existed since the merger.

Why did you run for union president?

Enough people asked me to run as I was the former San Francisco international base president until they closed all of the international flying down there in 2011. ... What I hear a lot from people right now is the fact that my stance on issues has been unwavering for many years. I’ve called out inequity in both our union leadership, our contract that we’ve been mandated to accept — the working conditions of flight attendants are not being addressed. I’ve been pretty vocal. ... They know that I am capable of leading and people have been starving for true union leadership that can actually represent them to the company and represent the flight attendants’ needs over the company’s needs.

There has been a lot of tension in the union lately. Are you hoping to repair the fractures in the membership?

That is really my main goal. I think there is strength and there is adequate representation when there is solidarity and people are on one page and we are able to represent that page to both the public, to Congress for things that we need and to our company. The main thing is my ability to solidify. We are probably the most fractured case of any union that I’ve seen in 33 years.

Did you vote in favor or against the joint collective bargaining agreement that was voted down and then enforced through arbitration?

We are working under the exact same contract that did not pass. I did not [vote for it]. It was full of loose language and too many to-be-determineds at the company’s discretion.

Do you think flight attendants should receive profit-sharing?

American management seems to feel that profit-sharing is part of our contract. They basically added $50 million per year to the top of our wages and called that profit-sharing and started our negotiations from there. All I know is at the time, we were predicting record profits, and we knew it, and we felt that $50 million was not adequate. It should have been on top of industry-leading wages after we sacrificed to put together this industry-leading airline. ... We felt $50 million was extremely undervalued since Delta Air Lines and some of the others were making $250 million payments in profit-sharing to their employees.

Do you think profit-sharing should be negotiated back into the contract?

To be honest, I don’t know if I can honestly say I want to negotiate it into the contract. Profit-sharing is one of the things I feel the company should be giving us. When you say negotiating, you’re usually giving something up for it. ... The wages themselves are certainly not industry-leading as they should be and they are more industry average, and they have been called market rate, which many of us are offended by that phrase. After what we’ve been through with this company to put it in the position it’s in right now, market rate is inferior to what we deserve. None of us really feel that profit-sharing is something that should be negotiated. It should be one of those things that when there are profits it should be part of the game plan.

Since you were elected, have you spoken to American’s management?

One of the first phone calls I got in the first couple of hours was from [CEO] Doug Parker, congratulating me. He did call me, as well as Hector Adler, the vice president of flight service. It was a cordial conversation; he said that he was looking forward to meeting and working with us.

What do you plan to do first when you enter your position on April 1?

My platform is built around uniting and unifying the membership right now from its fractured state. The overwhelming response that I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere, even right now just walking through the terminal in civilian clothes not expecting to be recognized, I’ve had several flight attendants recognize me and congratulate me. Their exact words have been, “I’ve never been this excited in a long time.” People are dusting off and putting back on their union pin. There is an enormous amount of hope that flight attendants’ needs will not only be recognized but articulated to management and someone will actually stand up and fight for the flight attendants’ needs at the company. CEOs do what CEOs do and let union leaders do what union leaders are supposed to do and hopefully that benefits everyone all the way around.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk