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Teamsters Seek American Air Election With Outsourcing a Key Issue

WASHINGTON, D.C. ( TheStreet) -- Three weeks after calling for a union election among mechanics at US Airways (LCC), the Teamsters said Tuesday they have done the same at American Airlines (AAMRQ.PK).

Victories in both elections would enable the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to represent mechanics at what would be the world's largest airline if a pending merger of the two carriers is approved. But incumbent unions blasted the Teamsters Tuesday and are promising a fight.

"These mechanics and many of their co-workers have been working hard for many months to build a nationwide mechanic-led movement for change," said David Bourne, director of the IBT's airline division, who was speaking Tuesday at a press conference in Washington.

Bourne said the Teamsters filed Tuesday morning with the National Mediation Board to represent the approximately 10,500 American mechanics and related workers, currently represented by the Transport Workers Union. The International Association of Machinists represents about 3,500 US Airways mechanics and related. The IBT is not part of the AFL-CIO, which prohibits members from raiding other members. The IBT would not say how many workers have signed cards requesting a union election at American.

Hank Rogish, a 22-year American mechanic, spoke at the Teamster event and called Tuesday "a day of relief and deliverance." He said mechanics at American, which is operating under bankruptcy protection, have "been under the heavy hand of a tough employer and suffering from weak union representation."

For years, the TWU, working with American, has led the airline industry in seeking to assure that aircraft maintenance work is performed in the United States, rather than abroad. But Rogish said: "Look at the contract language the TWU rammed down our throats -- the floodgates are open for outsourcing now."

However, at United (UAL - Get Report) outsourcing has increased since the Teamsters took over in 2008 as the mechanics' representative. At United "maintenance for the entire wide-body fleet is outsourced, with most of those jobs being sent to China," said Gary Drummond, TWU air transport director, in a prepared statement. "The IBT allows this even though United is a healthy carrier that exited bankruptcy more than six years ago.

"In sharp contrast, TWU, even in the face of American's bankruptcy, has kept the vast bulk of AA's aircraft maintenance jobs here at home and in house," Drummond said. Additionally, the TWU said it saved many jobs in the American bankruptcy, that "few mechanics lost their jobs involuntarily," and that the union was actively engaged in working with US Airways to assure a better contract for its members than would have been available without a merger.

Sito Pantoja, IAM general vice president, said that at United the Teamster contract "slashed the number of United mechanics per aircraft by half, abandoned their guarantee to negotiate a pension plan and spent millions of their members' dues money on federal oversight due to their culture and history of corruption."

United mechanics were IAM members until 2003, when the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association won a union election. In 2008, the IBT ousted AMFA in an election the IAM did not contest, fearing that too few mechanics would vote and that the group could lose all representation.

The IAM and TWU also questioned why the IBT would seek to organize workers who are already unionized. "In 2012, the Teamsters lost more members than any other union in the United States," Drummond said. "To make up for the membership loss and in a self-serving attempt to gain new recruits for their troubled pension plans, the IBT has resorted to raiding established unions at American Airlines and US Airways."

Rogish said that when American closed its Fort Worth maintenance base as part of its bankruptcy reorganization, the TWU barely responded. "I'm not saying the Teamsters win every single battle that comes along," Rogish said. "But they'll show up."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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