WASHINGTON – Nine thousand American Airlines passenger service agents, after a 19-year struggle, joined together today in a vote with the members of the US Airways CWA-IBT Association to form a new bargaining unit of 14,500 agents at American Airlines. It is the largest labor organizing victory in the South in decades.
Three-quarters of the agents work in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona and 2,300 are home-based reservations agents.
By an 86 percent vote, airport and reservations agents overwhelmingly chose representation by the Communications Workers of America-Teamsters Association in the National Mediation Board election; results of the vote were announced this afternoon. US Airways and American Airlines merged to form the New American Airlines in 2013.
The vote clearly shows that workers who can make a fair choice about union representation want bargaining rights. New American agents are concentrated in southern states, and work at diverse locations, including large and smaller airports, call centers and at home. Across every group, they voted for bargaining rights and union representation.
Richard Shaughnessy has been an agent at Miami International Airport for 27 years and has been a leader of the American agents’ fight for a voice and bargaining rights.
“The merger between American Airlines and US Airways is an exciting time for all of us. But even more exciting is our victory today,” he said. “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.”
Carroll Locklear is a home-based reservations agent in Texas. “I’ve been with American Airlines for 18 years and through all of those years I have been praying for this day. We have been the odd employees out for so long, because we were the only employees without union representation. Gone are the days that management can take what want when they want. This will be a win-win for all of us,” Locklear said.
“We feel stronger now with this vote,” Eula Smith, a customer service agent in Charlotte, said. “I’m a 60-year-old woman with 42 years with this employer. 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.”
Ken Grunwald is a 23-year-reservations agent, working at the call center in North Carolina. “I’m proud to remember everyone over the years who worked so hard for our union voice, who never gave up in the face of adversity, and who gave their blood, sweat and tears so that we would have the opportunity to celebrate this victory today. It’s a victory for all American Airlines employees! I’m so excited to think that we will finally be able to negotiate a legally binding contract. We now all have each other’s ‘back,'” Grunwald said.
Vickey Hoots has been a US Airways reservations agent at the Winston-Salem N.C., cell center for 29 years. “This win was a long time in coming, at American Airlines, just as it was at US Airways. I’m so proud of all our members and we’re excited that we will be able to negotiate the industry leading contract that our members deserve,” Hoots said.
Janet Elston, an agent at Dallas International Airport, says, “19 years ago, a handful of agents started a drive to obtain representation for AA airport and reservations agents. Many hundreds of activists have spent thousands of hours over the years to get us to today’s election result. They never wavered and never, ever gave up. We have finally achieved what most thought was impossible: union representation for our work group. Now we’ll begin a new working relationship with our company, with a legal binding contract.”
US Airways agents have been CWA members since 2000. US Airways merged with America West in 2005; passenger service agents at the former America West had organized with the IBT in 2004. After the merger, the CWA and the IBT formed the Airline Customer Service Employee Association, CWA-IBT.
Commenting on the victory, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated:
“Today, thousands of workers embraced a union future. The hardworking men and women of American Airlines and US Airways voted for union representation and a legally binding contract. Their collective skill has built successful airlines, and their collective voice will build successful workplaces.
“It should not be lost on the pundits that most of the nearly 14,500 new union members work in southern states. The right to a voice at work doesn’t have a geographic predisposition, and this victory will energize ongoing organizing efforts in the South.
“I want to thank all parties involved, including elected officials, for enabling workers to have a free and fair election. And I especially want to congratulate CWA and the Teamsters on helping give these workers a voice.
“Clearly, one of the largest labor organizing victories in the South in decades is a historic day. But it also shows that the future of the U.S. labor movement is alive, as these workers can be found at airports, call centers, even working from home. The right to collectively bargain will always be what our working family fights for.”
Photo: We won! CWA, Facebook.