NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As American Airlines ( AAL) flight attendants head to arbitration Wednesday, hoping to secure a contract that comes reasonably close to the one they narrowly rejected last month, their union is in turmoil.
That turmoil has engulfed Laura Glading, the 35-year flight attendant who has been president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union since 2008. She faces calls for her resignation, charges that she made an illegal deal with American management before it became American management, charges that she ignored members' will in crafting the deal and, in particular, charges that she has grown too close to management.
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The criticism largely reflects the controversial rejection of the contract; it has been exacerbated by impending leadership elections at most of the union's dozen bases. The contract was opposed by 8,196 flight attendants while just 16 fewer backed it.
Miami union activist Trice Johnson, an opposition leader, has called Glading "a corporate unionist." When flight attendants turned down the contract by 16 votes, Miami was the center of the opposition: Miami flight attendants rejected the contract by 587 votes. Johnson has written: "It is very hard for me to be inspired by a leader whose face I only see largely shaking hands with power brokers."
Of course, it is impossible to say exactly why the contract fell short. No doubt every opponent had very specific motivations.
The prevailing thought, as Glading said late Tuesday in her first interview since the rejection, is that "there was some idea that we could do better after this agreement was rejected." The history of airline labor contract rejections is that failed contracts are altered and then re-voted. At US Airways, the most recent flight attendant contract was approved on a third vote.
"I'm not going to deny that I have a good working relationship with management," Glading said. "I don't understand why that would be a problem. I have always worked hard for flight attendants. But now there is a management team that is willing to work with us.
"I realize that there are going to be times when we don't see eye to eye and have to fight things out," she said. "Then I am going to fight because I know who I represent. But I don't know why it is that you are perceived to be not a good union president just because you don't hate management."
Glading has said she was "devastated" by the contract vote. She was a leader in the unique effort to replace American management with US Airways management, widely perceived to be more labor friendly, during American's bankruptcy. Approval of the contract might have been seen as the final victory in her historic career.
Now Glading must trudge on, hoping for approval of a contract in arbitration that is not as good as the one her constituents rejected. APFA has estimated it will be worth about $81 million less.