Organizing at America West

Chara, from Tucson, Ariz., sends the following report about the organizing campaign of customer service representatives (CSRs) at America West Airlines.

I am a CSR of 19 years, and I am an organizer. This is the fourth campaign I have worked on at America West. The airline flies nationwide, so it is an incredible task to organize every city that we fly to. The turnover is tremendous “upstairs,” where passenger service is, simply because our Corporate doesn’t pay enough to keep people. To give you an idea, I make $13.37 now after 19 years of service, with no retirement except 401(k) and flying privileges that can be taken away at anytime because nothing is in writing. We have sick days, but we’re penalized for using them – we’re written up. But our Corporate wants “the sun, moon, and stars” from our workers.

Our unit is about 3,000 people nationwide, so we had to have key people in every city. I have been there a long time so I have a lot of contacts. I feel the Teamsters Union is the strongest and best-organized that I have seen to accomplish this most difficult task. Every local at every city stepped up to pull this together, but it took almost a year, starting in January 2002, to accomplish the card drive and file with the NMB [the National Mediation Board, which oversees union recognition votes in the airline industry].

The voting took place in November 2002, and the NMB used a new system of electronic voting. Employees were instructed to call a special number and go through a phone menu of pushing buttons to register their votes. I felt very uncomfortable with this process. I was in Washington, D.C., to see the vote totaled on Nov. 8. We had done a poll before our election, and our calculations showed us ahead by 500, so we were in shock when the NMB agent pushed the button and we lost. There was no way of double-checking the vote. Then, talking with our key people, we found over 100 violations by management, and we filed all of them. But after six months, the NMB ruled in favor of America West Corporate, against the employees.

Here is an excerpt from the letter I have sent the NMB members Francis Duggan, Edward Fitzmaurice, and Harry Hoglander:

“It is beyond me how you could arrive at this answer … you did not even interview one single person who filed a complaint. I can only surmise that your ‘investigation’ was a total farce. … You have deliberately looked away from fairness and justice and dealt a devastating blow to our People. I sincerely hope that this unrighteous decision will haunt you forever.

“I can advise you of this, keep your eyes on the West, just as the Phoenix has risen from the ashes, the America West Agents will rise again as well. It is my greatest goal to destroy the modern day slavery that America West Corporate and the NMB are trying to promote.”