Federal Judge Helps American Airlines Stall Union Vote

A union election at American Airlines has been blocked by a federal judge in Texas based on the idea that holding the election would damage the company's reputation. The logic of the ruling is ridiculous, at best, and it seems that this direct

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A union election at American Airlines has been blocked by a federal judge in Texas based on the idea that holding the election would damage the company's reputation. The logic of the ruling is ridiculous, at best, and it seems that this direct violation of the rights of the workers at the airline is unlikely to stand additional judicial scrutiny.

Buying a specious argument by American Airlines, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Texas on June 13 granted American Airlines a temporary restraining order that will delay our representation election.

American Airlines management continues to do everything they can to keep passenger service, reservations, and cargo employees from having a voice at this critical time – even as it negotiates with unionized employees under mediation from bankruptcy court judges.

Attorneys for American Airlines convinced the Texas judge that the company would be “irreparably injured by damage to its reputation among its employees and loss of market place good will” if the election proceeded, even though those arguments seem hardly plausible on their face.

It’s not the scheduled election that has damaged American Airlines’ reputation among their employees. It is the total disrespect they have shown you by the cuts they have imposed, ignoring your input, denying you your right to vote.

At issue is the fact that American Airlines is fighting very hard to prevent its workers from unionizing:

But there's a pretty significant private sector unionization effort ongoing right now at American Airlines where the Communications Workers of America have been trying to organize the passenger service workers. Airlines and railroads operate under a somewhat separate set of labor laws from most private employers, and until recently those laws had said that if 35 percent of workers sign a union card that will trigger an up-or-down vote on the workers formally forming a collective bargaining unit. As it became clear that the CWA was likely to reach the 35 percent threshold, American started furiously lobbying to get the law changed and Republicans insisted on including a provision raising the threshold to 50 percent in last year's FAA funding bill. But the CWA got its 35 percent before the law changed.

So now we have a dispute. The CWA's position is that since the legislation didn't specifically change the rules retroactively, that nothing has changed for their situation. American, naturally, takes the opposite view and says they're now under no obligation to hold the vote.

American is also directly defying the National Mediation Board in preventing the election.

CWA responded to the judge's ruling via press release:

The decision by a U.S. District Court Judge granting a temporary restraining order to block the vote by nearly 10,000 passenger service agents means workers, not American Airlines, will suffer irreparable harm – the standard for such an order.
Clearly the airline is afraid of workers having their democratic vote and has been fighting hard to stop it.

Agents who are being forced to make life-changing decisions right now about their jobs will be harmed by this vote not going forward, not American Airlines that filed for bankruptcy with $4 billion in the bank, in large part to throw out its collective bargaining agreements with union workers and gut the jobs, benefits and working conditions for the passenger service group.

Agents who want a union have been battling a vicious attack campaign for 15 years at American Airlines. This election, after repeated delays by American Airlines, finally was set by the National Mediation Board. But American Airlines doesn’t want to follow the law, it’s trying to rewrite the law.

There is no retroactivity for legislation, and clearly none for the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization. That’s been made clear to the airline by Senate leaders, who wrote to CEO Thomas Horton on May 15. “Beyond the clearly established precedent that limits the retroactivity of changes in the law, in this case, Congress included specific language in the amendments addressing this issue,” they said.

The Senate went even further, they wrote, with floor discussion by the two leading chairmen, Senators Rockefeller and Harkin, confirming that “the showing of interest requirement set forth in this legislation should only apply prospectively.”

The Communications Workers of America will continue to stand with the thousands of agents at American Airlines who want their union voice. We will continue to spotlight how this airline is ignoring Congress and trying to impose its own interpretation of congressional intent. We will make every legal challenge and argument necessary to make sure that agents get their right to vote.

The facts are on our side. American Airlines picked the wrong fight.

Learn more about the story at American Airlines Agent.

About Kenneth Quinnell

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