Washington, D.C. – After months of delays and intimidation by management, almost 9,700 American Airlines passenger service agents today can begin voting on the question of union representation, even as desperate executives of American Airlines’ parent corporation AMR continued efforts to smother employees’ rights.
The National Mediation Board is mailing out voting instructions to agents today; voting by telephone or Internet runs through January 15th.
At American Airlines stations across the country, workers celebrated their democratic right 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.
The vote follows the orders of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled unanimously that AMR was obligated to follow the directions of the National Mediation Board (NMB) and hold a union election. Since that time, AMR employed various tactics in order to prevent or interfere with the vote, including requiring workers to attend anti-union presentations by executives and employing an army of high-paid lawyers to file frivolous court actions. These lawyers even attempted to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, a petition summarily dismissed by Justice Antonin Scalia, a noted conservative.
Most recently, AMR tried to pad the voting lists by adding 900 individuals that have not worked for the airline a year, and are mainly unreachable, or were hired in recent months well after the eligibility cut-off date in an attempt to dilute the percentage of “yes” votes.
“American has also tried to disenfranchise agents by seeking to exclude from the voting lists 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,” said Sandy Rusher, Organizing Director at the Communications Workers of America, who is seeking to represent the passenger service agents. “As the election begins, they are still trying to throw monkey wrenches into the process.”
In the meantime, AMR continues to outsource jobs across its system, hiring low-paid contractors in the middle of the busy holiday travel season.
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 $9.00 an hour with no 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,” Similien said.
AMR filed for bankruptcy more than a year ago with $4 billion in the bank and now has over $5 billion. Last month, it
All the while, jobs continue to be cut.
“The poor passengers. You have a handful of people working ridiculous hours, people with black holes for eyes, trying to do the job of 50 people,” said Annette Rocco, a laid off passenger service agent at Bradley International Airport in Hartford Connecticut, one of seven cities served by American Airlines that have completely outsourced gate and ramp agent positions. “We have people crawling into bellies of aircraft that have never crawled into the belly of an aircraft before.”
Rocco, a 34-year veteran of the airline, noted that when she was hired she was sent to Dallas for five weeks of intensive training in effective customer service. The new low wage employees get two weeks training.