CHICAGO – The merger of Continental Airlines into Chicago-based United Airlines, creating the newest mega-carrier, will set off a round of union recognition elections among the combined carrier’s 55,000 workers.

But these votes will be different from those at “New Delta” last year. There, management of the “old Delta” staged nasty – and sometimes illegal – tactics to disenfranchise both its non-unionized workers and those of unionized Northwest, which red-state almost all-non-union Delta swallowed.

The Airline Flight Attendants-CWA lost one union recognition vote at “New Delta” and the Machinists lost three.

This time, IAM, AFA-CWA and the Teamsters will compete to see which union will represent which groups of workers at the larger United:

AFA-CWA said Jan. 20 it is seeking a vote to bring Continental’s flight attendants into the union, to join the 15,000 United attendants it already represents. The Machinists now represent the 9,300-9,500 Continental flight attendants.

“This merger and the extraordinary financial turnaround underway at United are only possible because flight attendants at both airlines have invested hard work and sacrifices over the years,” said Greg Davidowitch, AFA-CWA’s United chapter president, in a statement. “Management must know the flight attendant workforce is unified, and we expect the best contract at the world’s leading airline.”

Two weeks before, Machinists District 142 bargainers reached a 2-year interim pact with Continental for the flight attendants. It features a 2.5 percent raise retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010, another 2.5 percent hike on Sept. 1, and profit sharing, enhanced sick leave and better work rules. If the airlines merge, the tentative contract mandates negotiations on a transition agreement to cover the Continental flight attendants.

Meanwhile, the Machinists want to represent all the workers in two other crafts at the combined carrier: Fleet and ramp service workers, and stock and stores workers.

IAM represents the 6,800 fleet and ramp workers at United. On Jan. 25 it filed a request for a recognition election among Continental’s 7,000 fleet and ramp workers, with the National Mediation Board, the federal agency that oversees labor-management relations on airlines and railroads. The Teamsters now represent the Continental fleet and ramp workers, and mechanics at both airlines.

IAM also filed for a vote among 225 Continental stock and stores workers. They are unrepresented. IAM represents the 640 stock and stores workers at United. THE



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.