After a year of delays, nearly 9,700 American Airlines passenger service agents finally began voting this week in their first union representation election.
Voting, by telephone or over the Internet, runs through Jan. 15.
At stations across the country, workers celebrated the start of the election with "Vote Yes" cakes. In Boston, local elected officials, representatives of the faith community and neighborhood associations rallied with passenger service agents at the American Airlines cargo facility at Logan International Airport, delivering a petition to management asking them to treat employees fairly.
"In the airline industry, if you have no representation, you are considered a weak link and will most likely be outsourced," said Richard Rivera, a 12-year veteran at the airline. "So we need a contract and CWA will help us."
In the middle of its bankruptcy, AMR, American's parent company, has spent millions of dollars trying to derail the agents' union election. It's withheld employees' names and addresses, so voting instructions couldn't be mailed. It's sued the National Mediation Board, and AMR's lawyers even attempted to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, only to be dismissed by Justice Antonin Scalia last week.
Even now, AMR continues to try to rig the election by padding the voting lists with 900 people who haven't worked for the airline for a year. Many are unreachable or were hired in recent months, well after the eligibility cut-off date, in an attempt to dilute the percentage of "yes" votes.
AMR is also seeking to exclude agents who just lost their jobs and have recall rights, as well as those still working during the voting process but have plans to retire. Isn't that ironic? A year ago, this is the same company that actually wanted to give workers fired nearly a decade ago recall rights in an attempt to derail the union election.
But AMR clearly doesn't care about its employees — or customers. As the busy holiday travel season nears, AMR continues to outsource longtime employees and replace them with low-paid contractors with little industry experience.
Annette Rocco, a 34-year veteran of the airline, said she was sent to Dallas for five weeks of intensive customer service training. The new low-wage employees get two weeks of training.
"The poor passengers," said Rocco, who was recently laid off at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Conn. "You have a handful of people working ridiculous hours, people with black holes for eyes, trying to do the job of 50 people."
Renee Similien had worked the First Class check-in counter at Logan Airport for the past 12 years until last month. She said she was working 50-60 hour weeks for the past several years saving for her child's college tuition, and her salary maxed out at $50,000 a year.
"Everyone who was at max pay was kicked out," she said, adding that her replacement is currently making $9 an hour without benefits. "I've received over 20 handwritten cards from first class passengers I've assisted over the years telling me how upset they are with what's happening."