Raiders of a Lost Art

It’s a bad word in the lexicon of trade unionism, not far from ‘scab,’ but ‘raids’ are a fact of labour life. At Northwest Airlines, where unions stand to lose even more ground to the powers the airline gains while in bankruptcy, one union is fighting another for the loyalty, votes, and dues of the airline’s 9,700 flight attendants in a ‘raid’ that began just hours before the carrier’s 14 September bankruptcy.
The Association of Flight Attendants, a nationwide union representing 45,000 workers at 22 airlines, wants to take over from an independent union, the Professional Flight Attendants Association. The PFAA, an in-house union, itself ousted the Teamsters as the cabin crews’ union for more than 25 years in a close election back in 2003. The Teamsters had represented Northwest flight attendants since 1976 but were ousted after agreeing with management on a concessionary contract.
Paul Dire, the Northwest flight attendant who is leading the drive to enlist his colleagues in the AFA, says the independent PFAA union “failed to build a strategic contract-plan which garners the trust, involvement, and mobilisation” of the workers. He says Northwest’s flight attendants need the strength of the AFA, which is part of the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America–which is itself part of the national trades-union congress, the AFL-CIO. AFA has access to a strike fund of about $300 million and experience both at the negotiating table and the bankruptcy courtroom-it represented United flight attendants and those at US Airways in their trips through reorganisation.
Under the rules, when just over half the Northwest flight attendants sign a list saying they want to join the AFA, the feds hold an election which requires that 50% plus one vote for the union for AFA to win. If the union doesn’t win, it can keep trying, and raiders often do: it took the PFAA three tries before it won enough votes to take over from the Teamsters. Speaking of which, another group of Northwest flight attendants want to bring them back but the 1.4 million-member Teamsters, who aren’t saying if they like the idea or not.
This isn’t the first time there’s been raiding at NWA: back in 1999, a little group called the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association ousted the longtime metal-bashers’ union at NWA, the International Association of Machinists. And back on 20 August, the AMFA began a strike against NWA.
But that somehow seems like ancient history.

Leave a Reply