CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- ( TheStreet) -- Laura Glading is today the clearest, most prominent voice in support of a merger between AMR ( AAMRQ.PK) and US Airways ( LCC), even though, eight months ago, her career as a union leader seemed near an end. In a January election, Glading -- running for a second term as president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 16,000 American flight attendants -- won 2,149 votes, just 32% of the total, finishing second among three candidates. In a runoff a month later, she got 4,434 votes and, by a 150-vote margin, became the first AFPA president since 1996 to win a second term. Losing in the first round "was humbling," Glading recalled, in an interview. "It made me think I had to communicate more." Additionally, she thought, AMR's Nov. 29 filing made it more likely members would want an experienced leader to navigate through the bankruptcy process and the potential merger that loomed. "People wanted someone who is competent and they wanted to have hope, and I have a positive outlook," she said. "I am very optimistic. And now, I have thrown myself totally into what we are doing. I feel like this can happen. But we have to make it happen." Late last month, seeking to amplify its message, APFA joined with the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 7,000 US Airways flight attendants, to issue a joint statement backing a merger. "Their membership is as excited as ours about the prospects, so we are working together," Glading said. Last week, US Airways signed a non-disclosure agreement with AMR, enabling the two carriers to discuss confidential information and prohibiting disclosure to outside parties. Public advocacy and cooperation with AMR unions had been a big part of US Airways' efforts to secure a merger. Now it must be silent. American's other unions back a merger, but less intensely. The Transportation Workers Union has focused on preserving its options in any eventuality. Pilots are negotiating a tentative contract agreement with AMR, after 61% voted last month to reject a previous tentative agreement, prompting the departure of president Dave Bates.
"The whole labor group has advocated for a merger, but they've each had their own near-term issues to deal with," said aviation consultant Robert Mann. "The TWU has been less outspoken and Dave Bates, who was clearly an outspoken advocate, has fallen on his sword." Glading hadn't planned on a second term, but "at the last minute, I decided I could not walk away," she said. "In the first (voting) round, we were scrambling; I had just gotten on the creditors committee" after AMR's filing. "Everything was in flux and I finished second," she said. "But then, people started to realize this was serious business." During the bankruptcy, Glading has been engaged and strategic. She has attended every creditors committee meeting, building understanding of the process and relationships with participants. On March 19, she had her first meeting with US Airways President Scott Kirby in New York. "I was skeptical when I was first approached by the US Airways people," she said. But in April AMR union leaders went to Tempe, Ariz., to meet with US Airways executives, and Glading saw the financial benefit a combination could bring. "We never really felt like part of the team at American," she said. On Aug.12, concluding negotiations with AMR over its "last, best and final offer," APFA secured a "me, too" clause assuring that if pilot concessions are reduced, flight attendants get the same reductions. On Aug. 16, the bankruptcy court rejected two points in the airline's proposed pilot contract, Some pilots declared victory, but APFA reacted with a strongly worded statement assuring that the court decision in no way indicated that flight attendants would benefit from rejecting their tentative contract agreement. On Aug. 19, their ratification vote produced a 60% majority. A long career as a flight attendant and unionist prepared Glading for her job. A graduate of St. Johns University, she joined American as a flight attendant in 1978. She was active in the 1993 strike, getting arrested -- but not charged -- when a police officer thought she could control a LaGuardia airport rally that grew larger than a permit allowed. Yes, she conceded, she could have reacted more discreetly to the officer.
Union activity has, of course, reduced the amount of time Glading devotes to her other job, being a mom. Over Labor Day weekend, however, she drove her son from the family home in Westchester County, N.Y., to Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Three weeks earlier, mother and son shared a dinner. Glading was "feeling guilty" over all the time away since the bankruptcy filing. "I said 'there were times you needed me and I wasn't there for you,' and he said 'Mom, you could have been home for four years, but you weren't: You walked the walk and I learned dedication and discipline and giving back, so it was fine. I could not be more proud.'" Glading's reaction: "Of course, my dinner napkin was to my eyes." Follow @tedreednc >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed