American Airlines Flight Attendant Union Election Is Challenged by Feds

The U.S. Department of Labor said the Association of Professional Flight Attendants must conduct a new election for its national officers because its election on Jan. 9 didn't provide adequate secrecy for voters.

The union, which represents American Airlines' (AAL) 26,000 flight attendants, is fighting the Labor Department, arguing that the department has "a long-standing distrust and rejection of modern technology."

In a complaint filed Nov. 18 in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, the Labor Department said the union used an Internet-based electronic voting system that maintains member identifying information on one server and voting records on the other.

The arrangement "could allow individuals with access to both of the serves to identify how a member voted," the complaint said. The department said it was able to match the names of 4,082 of the 9,355 voters to their ballots.

The system is provided by Portland, Ore.-based BallotPoint, which has been used in more than 3,000 union elections with more than 1.5 million votes cast, according to its Web site. A spokesman for BallotPoint declined to comment.

"A link between the two servers, and thus between the voters and their voters, is evident" because the system not only sends confirmation emails to voters, but also sends emails when a vote is not properly recorded, the complaint said.

The Labor Department investigated after receiving a complaint filed by Sam Morales, a defeated candidate for vice president. He did not respond to requests for comment.

The Labor Management Reporting Act, enforced by the Labor Department, requires secret ballots in union elections as well as adequate safeguards "including the right of any candidate to have an observer at the polls and at the counting of the ballots." The department said the internet voting system did not permit observers.

APFA decried the Labor Department's aversion to technology in a Nov. 19 email to members.

"This technical attack on our elections is without merit," the union said. "The DOL is seeking to re-run our elections despite the fact that it does not claim that the results of the elections were inaccurate ... It attacks the process even though the results of the elections were valid."

The union said BallotPoint "is the leader in the field and has conducted union officer elections for a large number of unions," adding "APFA's long-standing and well established election process is caught up in the DOL's misguided effort to resist moving into the 21st century."

Rock Salomon, a 26-year flight attendant who is based in Boston and who ran unsuccessfully for union president in 2013 and 2016, said AFPA should cooperate with the Labor Department.

"All (AFPA) had to do was to cooperate, but they won't do that," he said. "I would support the DOL -- you have to have some kind of oversight."

In the early 2016 election, Bob Ross, who called himself a "Joe the Plumber" outsider, won 71% of the vote and defeated long-time union official Patrick Hancock for the APFA presidency. Nena Martin was elected vice president, Marcy Dunaway was elected national secretary and Eugenio Vargas was elected treasurer.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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