Wars between rival unions, though infrequent, go back more than a century. Now, as union membership continues its decades-long decline, union efforts to pilfer members from other unions seem to be making a comeback.
At the head of the pack is the infamous International Brotherhood of Teamsters. With efforts underway to lure workers at both US Airways and American Airlines away from their existing unions, the Teamsters are, once again, creating enemies in the union movement.
Last week, the Teamsters asked the National Mediation Board (the agency that governs labor relations at airlines and railroads) to hold a representation election among the mechanics and related employees at US Airways.
This is on top of the months-long effort to steal the mechanics of American Airlines who are currently represented by the Transport Workers Union (TWU).
With US Airways now likely to merge with the bankrupt American Airlines, the Teamsters' attacks on other unions' bargaining units are causing the targeted unions considerable angst.
In response to the Teamsters filing for an election at US Airways, Machinists District 142 President Tom Higginbotham responded to the Teamsters' filing by stating:
“This dumb and dangerous move is designed solely to benefit the IBT at the expense of the workers at US Airways.”
While the Machinists represent US Airways' mechanics, the Teamsters have also been trying to steal the TWU's members bankrupt American Airline's mechanics.
If successful at raiding the two bargaining units--since Right-to-Work laws do not apply to airline workers--the Teamsters stand to rake in nearly $15 million per year in union dues.
According to the Dallas Morning News:
The Teamsters said there are more than 4,000 mechanics and related employees at US Airways and 11,000 at American Airlines. Adding both groups to the union would nearly double its representation of M&R employees. According to the Teamsters, they now represent about 18,000 M&R employees at U.S. airlines.
In response to the Teamsters filing to raid the Machinists union at US Airways, the TWU's Garry Drummond issued a blistering press release, stating the Teamsters "are acting like a parasite."
As a trade unionist, I’m outraged and disgusted that the Teamsters plan to waste the time and resources of their members in an unprincipled raid against union members at US Airways. Let’s call this what it is: The IBT is behaving like a parasite. They are desperately attempting to feed off another organization to cover up their own failures. This has everything to do with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that the IBT lost more members than any other union last year and nothing to do with the needs of aircraft mechanics.
The Teamsters have a long history of trying to steal other unions' members. Even prior to the 2005 break up of the AFL-CIO, which saw the Teamsters and several other unions leave the federation, the Teamsters had a history of raiding rival unions.
Throughout its tumultuous and corrupt history, the Teamsters have fought with other unions for members. Often, the prey targeted by the Teamsters were the members of smaller, weaker unions like the Amalgamated Transit Union or the Seafarers.
More recently, within weeks of the 2005 split of the AFL-CIO, it was reported that the Teamsters might be opening the door to raids on other unions.
On July 26, one day after James Hoffa pulled the Teamsters out of the AFL-CIO, the Teamster General Counsel sent a notice to all Teamster locals establishing a procedure to be followed if any local desires to raid an AFL-CIO affiliated union.
This statement appears to point in a dangerous direction. Instead of coming out squarely against raids, it provides a procedure to potentially initiate them, and even hints at a suggested reason: claim another union has a substandard contract.
Later, in 2005, the Teamsters launched an attack against AFSCME in Chicago, prompting then AFL-CIO organizing director Stewart Acuff to state:
This is totally outrageous. They [the Teamsters] swore up and down that they wouldn't raid.
Despite the occasional attacks on other unions, Teamsters' largest target, however, has been the Machinists' union.
Following an unsuccessful attempt at raiding Machinists members at Coca-Cola in 2010, the Machinists stated:
While there are millions of workers in America wishing they could be represented by a union, the Teamsters are out stealing other unions’ members instead. It’s a disservice to our Coca-Cola members and it’s a disservice to workers we could have organized with the resources we must divert to defeat these raids.
It's too early to tell if the Teamsters will be successful at stealing the Machinists' and TWU's members. However, regardless of the Teamsters' success, one thing seems very likely:
As the union movement's share of the membership pie continues to shrink, as they have in the past, union bosses--like those at the Teamsters--will become more inclined to try to steal members from other unions.
"Truth isn't mean. It's truth."
Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012)