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Teamsters consolidate Republic Airways' unions; National Mediation Board faces test with Delta case


In what is to be the leading edge of a trend with airline holding companies, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) won representation for all pilots at the six airlines within Republic Airways Holdings, consolidating representation under a single union. IBT won 68% of the vote which must now be certified by the National Mediation Board.

The union now represents the pilots at Chautauqua, Frontier, Lynx, Midwest, Republic Airways and Shuttle America. It displaces the Frontier Airlines Pilots Association (FAPA), Air Line Pilots Association which represented Midwest Airlines pilots and the United Transportation Union which represented Lynx Aviation which Republic is trying to divest.

The move is part of the union’s efforts to consolidate the unions at other airline holding companies including SkyWest Airlines Inc and Pinnacle Airlines Inc in a campaign it has dubbed One List, One Voice, One Contract, according to Local 357 Executive Council Chairman Captain Patrick Gannon. While SkyWest remains non-union, subsidiaries ExpressJet and Atlantic Southeast Airlines have been organised and unions – especially the Air Line Pilots Association – continue to view SkyWest as the holy grail amongst regional airlines having made several unsuccessful efforts at organising its pilots. Similarly, unions view Delta in much the same way. SkyWest’s pilots are represented by the in-house SkyWest Airlines Pilots Association.

It is likely that, with the success of the Teamsters in gaining the NMB ruling that Republic was a single entity, moves will be made against the other two regional airline holding companies which include workers from Mesaba, Pinnacle, Colgan, ExpressJet, ASA and SkyWest, which could mean that an outside union could win representation for SkyWest pilots for the first time.

In a separate move United is moving to expand the scope for regional pilots which is not really news but its website suggests a cut-off at 95 seats above the normal scope cut-off of about 75 seats. It has 250 RJs under 95 seats including 150 E170s, CRJ-700s which would allow United Express – or former Continental Express – to join Mesa Airlines and Republic which fly CRJ-900s and E175s, respectively. Continental’s limit for regional aircraft was set at 50 seaters which have become too expensive with rapidly rising fuel. 

The success of the Teamsters at Republic culminates the union’s efforts which began last October when it filed with the National Mediation Board to integrate the airlines under the Republic banner into a single representation. The NMB ruled they were operated as a single transportation system clearing the way for the vote as well as similar challenges at Pinnacle and SkyWest. The ruling is part of a series of union successes before the board, the make-up of which was changed under the Obama Administration making it easier for unions to win union votes.

The union will now be negotiating for the Chautauqua, Republic and Shuttle America pilots who are working under a 2003 contract which has been amendable since 2007 and currently under mediation with the NMB. The newly combined pilot group will come under one contract following contract amalgamation negotiations which will be initiated by Teamsters after consultation and joint planning among the pilots of all RAH subsidiaries.

The labour success before the NMB stemmed from organising activities at Delta – famously non-union except for pilot representation by ALPA. Organisation efforts at Delta became a test case for the board’s rule change last year. The board overturned 70 years of voting practices. The board said unions would win representation if it won the majority of votes of those voting. Previously, unions had to win the majority of votes on the property. The ruling has been controversial and considered pay back for union support of President Obama during the 2008 campaign.

Despite the change, Delta managed to win every single organizing effort to keep itself largely non union in the wake of its merger with Northwest. Not satisfied, unions including the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) have charged Delta interfered with the elections, an issue which is now before the decidedly pro-union board.

Observers suggest that the board will rule in AFA’s favour on union interference, especially since Obama appointed two former union officials as two of the three members of the NMB – AFA’s Linda Pachula and ALPA’s Harry Hoglander. The board this month said it would investigate AFA’s allegations and unions smell blood given the pro-union make up of the board. This could mean yet another election campaign for Delta.

The embarrassing defeat at Delta is one of the reasons unions continue to go after the company, especially since union membership amongst private sector employees has dropped to only 6.9% of the workforce. The Delta unionisation drive, which included the 17,000 former Northwest employees who were heavily unionised and, in fact, paid less than their Delta counterparts, represented the largest campaign since the 1941 organisation for Ford, according to The Weekly Standard.

The publication analysed the complaints by AFA and IAM, calling their cases “exceptionally weak”.

“The unions argue that Delta went beyond simple opposition and committed 'gross interference'," said author Fred Barnes. “But their detailed complaints are flimsy, some of them downright absurd.”

IAM charged Delta with informing workers they must vote if they want a say in the outcome of the election – ironically, precisely what the rule change at the NMB was all about. If employees didn’t want a union they had to vote versus the previous rule in which non-voters were counted as no votes. It also said messages to employees “sounded militaristic” and Delta’s anti-union campaign intimidated employees “so [overwhelming them] that free choice was suppressed”, according to its complaint to the board. All of this was within Delta’s rights and was not illegal. Meanwhile, AFA said Delta allegedly made it mandatory to vote against the flight attendants union.

“With such dubious arguments, the unions have put the National Mediation Board to the test,” said Barnes. “If it’s open-minded and unbiased, as the board claims to be, it’s bound to reject the bid for new elections. If it’s a tool of organised labour, it will go along.”

This week Maxim Group analyst Ray Neidl weighed in on pro-union changes to government labour bodies such as the National Labor Relations Board, a supposedly independent government agency charged with conducting labour elections and investigating and mitigating unfair labour practices. He called the issue about Boeing moving some 787 production to the right-to-work state of South Carolina “ridiculous” and an invitation for businesses to move production overseas.

“The NLRB is no longer a neutral arbitrator,” he told Yahoo Financial’s Breakout, “but an arm of big labour. It is ridiculous. I cant see the court upholding this.” 

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