Skip to comments.Teamsters to represent workers at Continental (Airlines)
Posted on 02/12/2010 5:02:51 PM PST by Las Vegas Dave
DALLAS -- The Teamsters won an election to represent Continental Airlines ground workers who had rejected bids by other unions in recent years.
The Teamsters said Friday that about 4,100 workers out of 7,600 voted to join the union.
The airline industry is among the most heavily unionized in the U.S. private sector. The Continental fleet service employees were among the largest groups of nonunion workers in the industry, according to labor officials.
"This is a big victory," Teamsters President James Hoffa said in an interview. "It proves there are people to organize out there."
Hoffa said the union won by generating excitement with big rallies at Continental's hubs in Houston, Newark, N.J., and Cleveland, and by reaching into the airline's smaller bases where previous organizing campaigns had failed.
The Teamsters will represent a group that includes baggage handlers and cargo agents in bargaining with Continental over wages and other contract terms. The union already represents mechanics at the nation's fourth-largest airline.
The union accused Continental of running an "anti-worker, anti-union" campaign.
Continental senior vice president of labor relations Mike Bonds said, "We respect the choice our co-workers have made." He promised that the company would focus on working together.
According to the National Mediation Board, 4,102 Continental workers voted to join the Teamsters and 27 wrote in the names of other unions. With 7,603 workers eligible to vote, the Teamsters won by 300 votes.
In 2008, the Transport Workers Union fell 314 votes short in its third bid to represent the same workers. The machinists' union had also lost previous elections.
The unions faced uphill fights because under federal labor law, workers who don't vote are counted as if they voted against union representation. Union officials say 10 to 15 percent of workers normally don't vote.
The National Mediation Board is considering changing the voting rules to require that unions achieve a majority just among those casting ballots, but employer groups are lobbying to keep the current system.
The Association of Flight Attendants has delayed an election at Delta Air Lines while the mediation board considers changing the rules. The Teamsters considered postponing their Continental bid but decided they could win under the current rules, Hoffa said.
"It was a gamble that worked," he said.
Richard Gritta, a University of Portland (Ore.) finance professor who studies airlines, said the industry's financial problems and massive job cuts played into the Teamsters' hands.
Airlines "are cutting capacity and that means jobs, which angers workers," he said. "It's scary for them."
Only about 12 percent of all wage and salary workers belong to unions, according to the Labor Department. Private-sector workers are about five times less likely than government employees to be union members. The Teamsters union has about 1.4 million members.
CLEVELAND, Ohio (November 23, 2009 )
A proposed change in how some unions are formed could have a bearing on years of attempts to organize ramp workers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
A rule proposed by the National Mediation Board, which resolves disputes in the railroad and airline industries, would allow a union if a majority of employees voting supported one.
That's an easier standard to meet than the current Railway Labor Act, a 75-year-old law that allows a union only if approved by a majority of all workers who would be represented -- not just a majority of those actually voting. In fact, workers who sit out the election are automatically recorded as having voted "no."
Ramp workers in Cleveland have been trying to unionize since the 1990s. In a half dozen or so elections, the majority of voting employees have said they wanted a union, said Mark Frey, who heads Teamsters Local 964, which is trying to organize the 600 employees who handle luggage and marshal planes. He said other unions have organized past campaigns.
"To us, it is an undemocratic process," Frey said of current rules. "Nowhere in this country do we elect anyone on a 50 percent plus one of those eligible to vote. It is always on a simple majority of those who take the interest in voting."
Continental Airlines, the biggest carrier at the airport, says the National Mediation Board should leave things as they are.
"We strongly oppose changes to the balloting procedures because we believe it allows a minority of union supporters to vote in a union versus a majority [of workers being organized] that has been required for the past 75 years," said Julie King, a Continental spokeswoman.
Rena Crowley, a Continental ramp worker, said the airlines have made reaching the higher threshold harder by packing the employee list with people who can't vote, such as former employees.
"They have unfairly put people on our list and said that they were ramp workers," Crowley said. Frey said unions often haven't been given enough time to fulfill the laborious task of challenging names.
King wouldn't comment on the allegations, but she did say past votes at Cleveland Hopkins offered a true reflection of workers' wishes.
"They have consistently rejected representation by labor organizations," she said.
In September, the AFL-CIO sent a letter to the National Mediation Board requesting that representation be granted if a union was able to win a majority of the valid ballots cast, said Edward Wytkind, president of the labor federation's Transportation Trades Department.
Wytkind said the change would create fairer elections and bring the board more in line with elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, which regulates the interactions between most private-sector unions and employers.
In its request for comment about the rules change, published Nov. 3 in the Federal Register, the National Mediation Board said why it was considering the change.
"The proposed change, if adopted, should bring the board's election process in line with industry developments and discourage employee nonparticipation by giving every employee a chance to affirmatively express their preference for or against representation," the board wrote.
Chairwoman Elizabeth Dougherty offered a dissenting view, saying the rule should not be changed. The Republican more than hinted at partisan politics. With the appointment this year of a Democrat, the three-person board now has a Democratic majority.
"Regardless of the composition of the board or the inhabitant of the White House, this independent agency has never been in the business of making controversial, one-sided rule changes at the behest of only labor or management," Dougherty wrote.
Said Wytkind: "Government leadership is supposed to be about establishing whatever the policy principles are of the administration in power. The board has changed its policies many times in the past."
The National Mediation Board will accept comments until Jan. 4 and then could enact the changes. Frey said that the Teamsters have filed for an election but that the board hasn't given him a date yet. That means the representation vote could occur before a rule change.
Frey has faith the Teamsters can win an election even without the rules change. But he said he is committed to seeing new rules.
"It is time for a democratic system of voting," he said.
Continental Airlines ceased operations today, joining the ranks of other great airlines like Eastern, Braniff, PanAm, and TWA in the history books of American commercial aviation. Many are saying that the selection of the Teamsters Union for their ground personnel marked the beginning of the end. Well, the end has now come, and the union and its members are left on the tarmac.
Ummm... we cannot allow that. They no longer have the proper clearances. Throw 'em in jail. / s
Thanks for the update. Continental is now out for my company travel.
Continental sucked BEFORE this vote to stand around and soak the flying public.
I will go out of my way to avoid them.
I hate unions. Can you imagine letting people steal your income so they can hand it over to scum-bag marxist politicians. That’s the number one reason I didn’t become a school teacher after 25 years of military service. I’d probably have to kill someone.
Anywhere you see an industry in and out of financial trouble you will find a labor union involved.
....don’t fly with me....
If you will clearly identify yourself as a union idiot, you may be assured that I will immediately walk off your airplane. Now go have a beer with your Eastern and Braniff buddies.
Far from the actual truth...
Well, fortunately we used all of our miles up at Christmas and won’t be getting any more. My grocery card was tied to our Continental mileage plan until January 1. Thought it was interesting that they no longer have an agrement with Continental after all these years. They are one of Houston’s major employers and we are a right to work state. Will be interesting to see how this plays out here.
Let's see how that Teamster thingy works out for you fellas at Continental. Just remember.... Hope and Change..
ACORNS being sent in lieu of groceries...
I’ll still take your advice
You are so right. My fathers company was part of a union for 50 years. When non union labor began bidding on contracts, he could not compete. He turned to the union for help. They refused to make any concessions and he quickly lost all his contracts. As a result 300 people were out of work. The union did not help them find other jobs. In my opinion the unions are like locusts feeing on these companies and when they are done they simply move on to the next victim. It’s become a scam of major proportion.