Teamsters Try to Raid US Airways Mechanics

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is trying to raid mechanics at US Airways ( LCC), just as the group is wrapping up contract negotiations with the International Association of Machinists, said an IAM local union president.

The Teamsters are "bottom feeders," said Bill Wise, president of IAM Local 1725 in Charlotte and a negotiator in contract talks affecting the airline's 3,154 mechanics. "Whenever we go into negotiations and are in the middle of contract talks, that is when the Teamsters try to organize," he said. "It's frustrating because it diverts attention from negotiations."

The contract talks have reached a final stage at which financial terms are being discussed, Wise said.

The Teamsters clearly see opportunity resulting from the pending merger of US Airways and American ( AAMRQ.PK). Because they aren't part of the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters aren't prohibited from seeking to organize workers who are members of AFL-CIO unions. The Tulsa World reported Sunday that Teamsters are also seeking to raid American's 11,000 mechanics, currently members of the Transport Workers Union.

"They think they can win an election if (US Airways and American) combine, but I believe the US Airways membership understands that the IAM does a good job and has a proven track record when dealing with mergers," Wise said.

Teamsters are collecting authorization cards from US Airways mechanics and "claim to have quite a few," he said. Labor law requires that 50% of eligible employees must sign a card in order for a representation election to be held. (Last year, Congress upped the requirement from 35%.) In all, four unions would have an interest in representing mechanics at the combined airline.

Teamsters are "relentless" about getting mechanics to sign cards, Wise said. "It's borderline stalking. I get phone calls complaining about harassment. They come to your house. One guy put his foot in the door. Then people sign a card to get them to shut up, not because they would vote for the Teamsters."

At American, the Teamsters had nearly enough signed cards to ask the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a representation election, The Tulsa World reported. "We are really, really close," Chris Moore, chairman of the Teamsters Aviation Mechanics Division, said at a press conference on Saturday, the newspaper reported. "We are making one more push to make sure that we have enough."

Teamsters officials said more than half of mechanics at the American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa have signed on in support, as well as a majority of mechanics at 14 other bases. Said Wise, "The cards are good for a year. If there is an election on American property and they lose and the merger is consummated in June or July, they could come back to the combined group and try again."

In a prepared statement released Feb. 15, TWU President Jim Little blasted the Teamsters for "raiding" other unions.

"TWU will put our record against the Teamsters any day of the week," Little said. "If you really want to study Teamsters' representation in the aviation sector, buy a plane ticket to China, where most of United Airlines' ( UAL) aircraft are repaired. In contrast, American Airlines repairs the bulk of its aircraft in-house and in the United States and will continue to do so under agreements reached by TWU with both AMR and US Airways.

Additionally, referring to the raid on IAM members, Little accused the Teamsters of "a campaign of misinformation," saying, "look at what they promise US Airways workers on issues like reopening a contract before it is amendable or their lack of knowledge about seniority issues when they talk to workers at American.

"It's a sad history," he said. "The Teamsters dropped out of the AFL-CIO, claiming they wanted to devote more resources to organizing. Instead, they devote their time and efforts to hurting the labor movement."

Teamster spokesman Galen Munroe, responding to both Wise and Little, said: "The statements are surprising and utterly ridiculous."

Another union, the Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association, is also seeking card support from American mechanics, The Tulsa Worldsaid.

The IAM also represents fleet service workers at US Airways, while the TWU represents fleet service workers at American. Both unions are AFL-CIO members and they are said to be discussing future representation issues.

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

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

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