US Airways, AMR Merger's Biggest Advocate Is Union Leader and Mom

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.

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