FORT WORTH, Texas – Texas federal judge Terry Means has halted a planned union recognition vote among 10,000 passenger service agents at Texas-based American Airlines, drawing outrage from the Communications Workers, who had received a federal OK for the balloting. Its organizing drive at American was one of the biggest among airlines in recent years.

Means, a district judge in Fort Worth named to the bench by former GOP President George H.W. Bush in 1991, issued a temporary restraining order on June 13 against the vote. He ruled in a case American brought in his court on May 2 – a month before the National Mediation Board, the agency that oversees labor-management relations in airlines and railroads, even had approved the balloting.

Means said American would “suffer irreparable harm,” if the election went forward now. CWA retorted it is the workers, not American, that his ruling hurts. “Workers, not American Airlines, will suffer irreparable harm – the standard for such an order,” said CWA. It noted the agents have fought to unionize for 15 years.

“This decision will live in infamy as an atrocious assault on workers’ rights,” union President Larry Cohen said. “It will be remembered as total collaboration with a management discredited not only by vicious union-busting but by the disgrace of bankruptcy. CWA will carry on this fight for representation and justice and decency for as long as it takes. American Airlines CEO Thomas Horton has picked the wrong fight.”

The passenger service agents sought the election just as American filed for bankruptcy late last year, with $4 billion in the bank, its unions say. American wants to “throw out its collective bargaining agreements with union workers and gut the jobs, benefits, and working conditions for the passenger service group,” CWA adds. When NMB OK’d the union recognition vote, the passenger service workers openly said they wanted to cast ballots to protect their jobs before the jobs disappeared.

Means said American “had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of its case against the vote. He set a hearing for June 21 on whether to make his ban permanent. The voting was supposed to start that day and run through Aug. 2.

American’s suit said CWA should have filed for the election under a new law governing the NMB, enacted in February. The law mandated that unions seeking recognition at airlines and railroads must get signed election authorization cards from an absolute majority – 50 percent+ 1 – of the workers involved. The old requirement was 35 percent.

CWA met that when it filed for the vote on Dec. 7. NMB approved the vote on June 6.

“American Airlines doesn’t want to follow the law, it’s trying to rewrite the law,” CWA added. “There is no retroactivity for legislation, and clearly none for the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization,” that increased the union recognition election card requirement to 50 percent+1.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.