With nearly $1 million per month in union dues up for grabs, it's a winner-takes-all contest of which union gets its hands into the pockets of nearly 25,000 flight attendants. As a result, the Machinists' union that (along with President Obama's NLRB) is charging Boeing with labor law violations is alleging that another union, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) also violated the law when the Machinists lost an election 9,745 to the AFA-CWA's 11,942 votes to represent (nearly 25,000 combined) United Airlines' flight attendants.
The dispute stems from the merger between Continental and United Airlines, where different unions (the IAM and the AFA-CWA, respectively) represented the flight attendants at each airline. As the merger has resulted in a single carrier, the Machinists' union (which represented roughly 9,500 flight attendants at Continental and Continental Micronesia) was forced to defend its turf against the numerically larger AFA-CWA's 15,000 flight attendants at United. Unsurprisingly, the Machinists lost.
Now, however, the Machinists (IAM) is crying foul, claiming the AFA-CWA engaged in what amounts to so-called union-busting. According to an IAM statement:
The IAM officially notified the National Mediation Board (NMB), United Airlines and the Communication Workers of America - Association of Flight Attendants (CWA-AFA) that it is protesting the conduct of the recent representation election for Flight Attendants at United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Continental Micronesia.
According to evidence provided by Flight Attendants at United, Continental and Continental Micronesia, the CWA-AFA engaged in at least five major breaches of the NMB’s voting rules. Additionally, United Airlines violated election rules to favor CWA.
“The repeated disregard for NMB election rules and the overt violations by the CWA and United/Continental management have placed the entire election process on trial,” said IAM Transportation GVP Robert Roach, Jr. “The NMB must act to rectify this injustice and restore confidence in its election procedures.”
In a letter to the National Mediation Board (the agency responsible for overseeing airline elections), the Machinists allege that the AFA-CWA engaged in (among other things) polling of employees, holding of a 'polling party,' misrepresentation of the NMB's official voting materials "in a manner designed to make it look like the NMB was not neutral," as well as harassing and coercing flight attendants in to voting for the AFA-CWA and into "refraining from voting or supporting the IAM."
Ironically, in a press release vowing to fight the IAM's accusations, AFA-CWA President Veda Shook accused the Machinists' union of engaging in its own union-busting tactics:
“Flight Attendants are excited to be unified at the new United Airlines and move forward together. It is shameful that the IAM would disrespect the democratic outcome of this vote and attempt to interfere in the negotiations and daily representation for Flight Attendants at United, Continental and Continental Micronesia.
“Throughout the entire campaign the tactics employed by the IAM were some of the nastiest we’ve ever seen in other organizing drives where we faced management and union busters of the worst kind. Flight Attendants saw through it, voted for AFA and now they want to move on with a unified Flight Attendant group.
Of course, watching two unions—each with no better skills or powers than the other—fighting like hyenas over the flight attendants makes it hard to believe that either union is in it for anything other than the dues.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776