April 1, 2008
Teamsters Win Vote to Represent United Airlines Mechanics
By Stephen Franklin, Chicago Tribune
Apr. 1--Vowing tougher bargaining with United Airlines, Teamsters union officials and supporters Monday hailed their heated election victory in winning over United's mechanics from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.
The Teamsters garnered 4,113 votes compared with 2,631 for AMFA out of 8,631 eligible workers, according to the National Mediation Board. Only about 5,000 mechanics are still on the job, according to United Airlines officials.
Though the mechanics' contract does not expire until next year, the Teamsters have talked about asking United to reopen the contract. The union wants to ratchet back the shift of work to non-union locations and to recoup wage and benefit cutbacks made during United's financial troubles.
"The No. 1 thing is going to be job security. Without jobs, it doesn't matter how much we make," said Richard Petrovsky, a mechanic at United's San Francisco repair facility, who helped the Teamsters' effort to oust AMFA, which represented United's mechanics since 2003.
United officials said the airline looks forward to dealing with the Teamsters, but that "the contract remains in place through December 2009."
The mechanics' agreement allows United to contract out all of its heavy maintenance and up to 20 percent of its other maintenance work, said United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy.
The Chicago-based airline has not disclosed how much maintenance work it has outsourced, she added. However, McCarthy said less than 4 percent of repairs are done outside the U.S.
"The Teamsters came in and built up very large expectations ... and we are pretty confident that in the end the United members will be rather disappointed," said Steve McFarlane, AMFA's national director. "United is not going to agree to open the contract ... to add pay and benefits," he predicted.
AMFA's defeat at United leaves it with about 6,000 working members at six airlines, said McFarlane, down from more than 20,000 members several years ago. Its most devastating defeat came two years ago when it folded a 14-month strike at Northwest Airlines, where its ranks dropped from 4,400 before the dispute to several hundred.
Petrovsky said the failed strike was one reason he supported the Teamsters. "We saw what happened to those mechanics," he said.
The Teamsters began organizing United's mechanics two years ago, then stepped it up by adding at least 50 organizers as the election drew near. With 9,000 aircraft mechanics in its ranks, the union viewed the drive as a way to solidify its growth in the airline industry.
Jim Connolly, a United mechanic at O'Hare International Airport, said he is banking on the Teamsters "to get back some of the things we've given up in the last 15 years."
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