Airline workers step up their fight for contracts
Demand better pay, work conditions in actions across U.S.
|IAM member builds support for workers' demands at San Francisco airport, November 22.|
BY BETSEY STONE
CHICAGO--Mechanics, flight attendants, and pilots at several major airlines have been intensifying their fight for contracts with improved pay and working conditions as the holiday season approaches.
The 15,000 mechanics, baggage handlers, and service agents at United Airlines have been without a contract since July. On November 20, United Airlines flight attendants held informational picket lines at l6 airports across the country, demanding better pay. They passed out leaflets drawing attention to the wages of newly hired flight attendants--as little as $15,156 a year.
"We are forced to live 5-10 crew members to an apartment just to afford the rent," the protesting flight attendants explained in the leaflet. "Many of us are forced to work second and third jobs, just to survive."
Flight attendants at United's hub in Denver chanted, "Pay us or chaos" as they leafleted passengers. "Operation Chaos" refers to steps the flight attendants plan to take, including heightened enforcement of the existing contract, if a raise is not forthcoming.
American Airlines flight attendants carried out coordinated actions at airports across the country November 18, the anniversary of a five-day strike by flight attendants in 1993 that shut down American Airlines. Better pay and retirement benefits are key demands being raised.
Hundreds of members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), representing mechanics at United Airlines, leafletted passengers the day before Thanksgiving at the United terminal in San Francisco, as they did in other cities. "Pay raises with this company start at the top and go down. They have enough money to buy USAir but not enough to pay us!" commented one worker, Fernando Atienza.
After months of bargaining, with the company not coming close to union's demands, officials of the mechanics' division of IAM District 141 have asked federal mediators to release them from contract talks and declare a 30-day "cooling-off period," after which the union would be able to call a strike. In a blatant denial of the right to strike, the board has so far refused to agree to the release.
On November 17, a federal judge backed up United Airlines in its fight against the IAM by issuing a restraining order that directs mechanics at the airline to stop what the company charged is a campaign to cancel flights.
United Airlines says that since the beginning of November an average of 56 flights a day have been canceled and dozens more delayed for mechanical reasons. According to United, this is double the 20 or 25 flights a day canceled normally.
The airline bosses have also warned in a letter to the Association of Flight Attendants that the union will be sued if it carries through with Operation Chaos.
Northwest Airlines obtained a court restraining order November 20 that is similar to the one at United. The mechanics at Northwest Airlines, members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, have been without a contract for four years.
Northwest, too, claims the mechanics are causing the cancellation of more flights than normal by stalling on certain jobs and refusing to work overtime.
All labor negotiations in the airline industry are governed by the Railway Labor Act. Under this law, unions can't strike without permission from the National Mediation Board. In another attack on the right to strike, this board recessed talks between Northwest and the mechanics indefinitely, charging that AMFA was demanding too high a wage proposal.
Pilots at Delta Airlines, who have been in contract negotiations for more than a year, have begun to decline overtime work. Pilots at Continental are asking that their contract be reopened to allow for a pay increase.
American Airlines pilots recently rejected a one-year extension of their contract.