American Airlines Stonewalling Union Election for 10,000 workers

Mike Elk

American Airlines and American Eagle employees march to U.S. Bankruptcy Court to protest against American's plans to cut jobs and labor costs while under bankruptcy court protection on April 23, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the National Mediation Board (NMB), which governs labor relations in the rail and airline industries, ordered American Airlines to proceed with an election petitioned for by 10,000 of its customer-service workers on whether to join the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The workers had petitioned to hold the election nearly six months ago in December 2011, but American Airlines has delayed it, filing various lawsuits and challenges.

The NMB had originally scheduled an election to occur on May 17. However, American Airlines sued the National Mediation Board on May 2, claiming that the union election petition should be filed again since President Obama signed a bill that increased the threshold of employees needed to file for a union election. American Airlines defied the order from NMB and refused to hand over lists of eligible voters and comply with the election request by American Airlines. 

In response, the NMB cited a 2004 decision it had made declaring that, if petitions had already been filed before a law was changed, elections should proceed as they previously would have. It is the NMB’s longstanding policy consistent with (existing law) to resolve representation disputes as expeditiously as possible,” wrote NMB General Counsel Mary L. Johnson. The Board notes that as a result of American’s Motion, the processing of this representation case has already been delayed for four weeks.”

The National Mediation Board has ordered an election to begin via telephone and internet voting on June 21 through August 2. The results will be announced on August 2, but it is unclear if American Airlines will comply with the ruling by the NMB to hand over its lists of eligible voters so that there can be an election.

American Airlines stands by its decision to seek a court ruling on whether the decision to authorize a union election for American’s agents and representatives was legally permitted. This is an unprecedented issue in the history of the Railway Labor Act that merits a court review before any election takes place,” American Airline spokeswoman Missy Cousino says. The CWA has acknowledged that a majority of these employees did not support its effort to unionize this workgroup, so we think it’s clear the union’s election application did not meet the threshold of 50 percent that the law says is required in order for a union representation election to be held”.

CWA plans to go ahead and participate in the election regardless of whether American Airlines hands over its list. The union plans on basing its list of eligible voters off an earlier list given to them by American Airlines in December. CWA wants to hold the election quickly because of the ongoing bankruptcy negotiations that American Airline is engaged in, which could lead to layoffs and wage and benefits cuts for many of its customer-service workers.

Several Democrats allied with CWA, including both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D‑Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D‑Calif.), have written letters to American Airlines, pressuring them to comply with the NMB and allow the election to move forward. CWA also launched a low six figure” ad buy online and in several influential publications like Politico and The Nation.

The ads says It’s the most fundamental American right there is — the right to vote, but American Airlines is doing everything it can — both legal and not — to block 10,000 passenger service agents from voting to form a union.”

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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