Mechanics’ Victory at United Airlines

Against the Current, No. 106, September/October 2003

Malik Miah

IN A STUNNING victory July 14 for mechanics and related employees at United Airlines, the Aircraft Mechanics’ Fraternal Association (AMFA) replaced the International Association of Machinists (IAM) as their union. The victory came after rank-and-file grassroots campaign that included hand billing, tabling and responding to the failed policies of the incumbent union. United Airlines is the world’s second largest carrier.

AMFA now represents more mechanics in the airline industry than any other union. Represented airlines include Northwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines, where AMFA won certification in January.

With mechanics at United Airlines, AMFA represents over 20,000 active mechanics and related workers and is in the middle of volunteer organizing campaigns at American (the world’s largest carrier), Delta, US Airways and America West.

The vote at United was not close. Of the 13,144 eligible voters as determined by the National Mediation Board (NMB), 5,234 (63.5%) voted for AMFA and only 2,992 (34%) for the IAM, which has been at the airline since 1945. The eligibility list included thousands of laid-off employees and non-union salaried employees added to the list two years ago with the IAM’s support.

The internal revolt (AMFA does not use outside organizers) was led by mechanics fed up with the concessionary policies and lack of democracy of the IAM, where secrecy was the motto of the officials who talked more to management than their own dues-paying members. Decisions were made behind the backs of the members, who had to follow the rumor mills and company propaganda to learn our fate.

The incumbent officials became close partners with top management as concessions were wrung from us–first under a misguided Employee Stock Ownership Plan in 1994, which gave us stock that is now virtually worthless with United Airlines in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The contract language became almost meaningless as management imposed its will and contracted out more and more of our work.

The final nail in the IAM’s coffin occurred April 30 when under the gun of the bankruptcy court, a new concession contract containing nearly $800 million per year until 2009 as part of UAL’s restructuring. The next day, after the pact was approved, the certification election was announced.

AMFA rejects secret negotiations and signing any “letters of confidentiality” with management. AMFA does not promise a quick reversal of the setbacks we have suffered. It can’t. The aim is to first close the barn door and stop the erosion of the contract. Based on AMFA’s democratic principles and its philosophy of treating members with respect based on our knowledge, skill and integrity, the mechanics and related workers are ready to stand up and fight for a better future at the airline.

ATC 106, September-October 2003