AA recalls ex-TWA flight attendants amid intra-union stress

by Charlie Leocha on October 12, 2010

I’ve always told friends who commented on union/management battles that they ain’t seen nothin’ yet until they see union go after union. The airlines with their recent and not-so-recent mergers have been some of the best examples of union vs. union animosity. Plus, union heavy-handiness makes any cruel capitalistic management look tame by comparison.

I swear, union members would rather face unemployment and starve than let another union member get a step on them in term of seniority. With all of the union action going on these days in the airline space, one needs a scorecard for issues right here in the U.S.A. No need to bring Europe’s unionized airlines into the mix.

• Delta workers are in the midst of voting on whether they should unionize or be a non-union shop. Northwest Airlines was heavily unionized and the old Delta was heavily non-union with the pilots being the only major unionized group in the company.

• United and Continental Airlines are only now beginning the merger of their unions. The Continental group is noted for its friendly nature and cooperative nature when it comes to working with management. United’s unions are made up of some of the most disgruntled workers in the country.

• US Airways pilots are still working in two separate unions — the old USAir union and the old America West union. This is all years after the merger. The sticking point — seniority. Even though America West pulled the USAir pilots’ coals from the fire, that has nothing to do with blending workforces according to unionthink.

• Southwest and AirTran are only now beginning to test the waters of union mergers as they begin their moves toward joint operations. In this case the improvement in wages and benefits accorded to AirTran workers being assimilated into the Southwest system will make life a bit easier, but seniority will be an issue whether money is better or worse. It seems to be a holy grail for unions.

• American Airlines is looking at a trifecta of union irritation and then some. Pilots are coming into negotiation for a new contract. The mechanics have rejected a new contract approved by their negotiating committee. The flight attendants have asked for permission to strike. And now with the recall of some of the old ex-TWA flight attendants, wounds created by AA’s Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) are coming back into focus.

I have been good friends with both current AA flight attendants and with laid off ex-TWA flight attendants. AA just announced they will recall 545 flight attendants to active employment status. All 545 are former TWA employees. There are about 800 more TWA attendants that remain on the recall list waiting to return to the job after more than 7 or 8 years of unemployment.

I guess my sentiments fall on the side of the ex-TWA workers more than on the side of AA’s APFA leadership. No union in history has been treated with the disdain the ex-TWA flight attendants had heaped on them by APFA. The ex-TWA flight attendants are returning, dedicated to doing a good job, but still smarting from finding themselves laid off more than half a decade.

I just received these comments in a release from from the Coalition for Union Principles, a group made up of ex-TWA flight attendants. It does not paint a pretty picture nor does it offer a snapshot of ongoing copacetic worker relationships. Most of their statement follows.

“We are grateful to American for the recall, and the company can expect the returning TWA flight attendants to go above and beyond the call of duty to deliver excellent customer service for which they have become known” said Nancy McGuire, a former TWA Flight Attendant.

The flight attendants who will be returning to the job have between 33 and 44 years service in the airline industry. They will be returning to the bottom of the seniority list, below other American attendants who have as little as 9 years of seniority. That’s because when American purchased TWA, American’s flight attendant union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), refused to credit the TWA attendants with any seniority and placed them in the position of new hires at the bottom of the seniority list, where they were first in line to be laid off.

Seniority is the bedrock principle of organized labor in the airline industry. It governs issues from bidding for assignments to the order in which employees are laid off and recalled. APFA stands alone among all other flight attendant unions in the way they have treated the TWA members. All unions except APFA recognize the seniority earned at the previous carrier when two airlines are combined.

In the recent United / Continental merger, the larger union at United, the Association of Flight Attendants, has agreed to honor all seniority earned by the Continental attendants, even though they belonged to a different union as was the case in the American / TWA deal.

At US Air and America West, both flight attendant groups retained all previous seniority at the combined company. Even at non-union Delta where the decision was left to management, all Northwest flight attendants were given credit for seniority on the combined seniority list.

There is irony in APFA’s decision to deny the TWA attendants any seniority. Many of the TWA attendants are directly responsible for some of the benefits APFA enjoys today. The TWA attendants were at the forefront of the labor movement in fighting for pensions, health and safety regulations, the abolition of age and marriage restrictions, gender equality and weight restrictions that transformed a short term job into a career.

The TWA attendants vow to continue their struggle to right the injustice that APFA perpetrated against them.

Clearly, there is no love lost between between the AA APFA members and the ex-TWA members. Will time heal all wounds? After eight years, the wounds are still raw.

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  • Frank

    I swear, union members would rather face unemployment and starve than let another union member get a step on them in term of seniority.
    =================================================

    @ Chris. Timely article. Nice job. YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT, seniority is all about quality of life. It determines your pay, your vacation days, your position on the aircraft, what types of trips you can hold, being on call versus having a schedule. It’s huge. Many airline (F/A) Unions have tried in the last decade to reinvent the sacred DATE OF HIRE seniority by, as American Airlines did, STRIPPING THEM of it by justifying “we saved you from liquidation” mantra. United Airlines Flight Attendants who are/were junior were concerned about a possible merger years ago with the more senior USAir Flight Attendants, that they wanted to disband the Union in order to remove the Date Of Hire from the Union by-laws.
    This situation causes years and years of anomosity between co-workers.
    WELCOME BACK, ex-TWA (some of the best in the sky) FLIGHT ATTENDANTS.

    Are there still “Recall right” limits in place?

  • Jane Picotte

    Thank you for your article. I am one of the TWA Flight Attendants, I will be happy to return to flying. It will be my 43rd Anniversary on Oct. 30.
    I started flying at the age of 20. DOH is the only way each and every flight attendant should be treated. We earned our wings and seniority.
    Thanks again, happy flying.

  • Scott

    Why should we thank Charlie? A ton of Union bashing. Charlie is practically blaming the unions for disgruntled employees rather than hideously selfish treatment by upper management.

    As a “consumer advocate,” you’d think someone like Charlie would be in favor of workers’ rights rather than bashing people in the workplace.

    It is clear that Charlie thinks airline employees should work for peanuts if that would save the public a few bucks on airline fees.

    Sad.

  • Tanya Smith

    Excellent artilcle which thanks to you brings to light the unjust and unprecedented treatment TWA Flight Attendants received from their very own union, following the merger of AA and TWA. Laws today prevent this kind of injustice. APFA should do the right thing, and provide credit where credit is due, meaning…date of hire seniority for all Flight Attendants.

  • kim turner

    I applaud the writer for coming down on the the side of the ex TWA flight attendants for their mistreatment at the hands of AA and the union representing the AA flight attendants. I do, however find it ironic that he should expect the USAirways pilots to be content with the same basic treatment because ” their coals were pulled from the fire” by America West. America West essentially stapled the USAirways pilots to the bottom of the seniority list, hence no unified contract. It was wrong when it happened to the TWA flight attendants, and it is just as wrong at USAirways.

  • Frank

    Scott October 12, 2010 at 3:51 pm
    Why should we thank Charlie? A ton of Union bashing. Charlie is practically blaming the unions for disgruntled employees rather than hideously selfish treatment by upper management.
    ===============================================

    Scott, in this case and in this article, it is the Union’s fault that TWA flight attendants were STAPLED. They deserve bashing. It’s no longer allowed, by law to staple a workgroup under another one like AA APFA did to TWA.

    Welcome Back, Jane. =)

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    Scott
    I think you are putting too many of your prejudices into your comment. Union bashing? Please re-read my column (and previous columns going back a decade) and let me know where I ever stated or insinuated, “airline employees should work for peanuts if that would save the public a few bucks on airline fees.”

  • ed shioyazono

    @scott, charlie clearly points out that apfa, a union, engaged in the “hideously selfish treatment” we all expect of upper management, and opines that they stand alone among flight attendant unions in doing what they did.

    ironically, “hideously selfish treatment” was the reason labor unionized in the first place. when a union behaves characteristically capitalistic – evil stereotype included – and shows no solidarity with their brothers and sisters in their own profession during a merger as apfa did, i think they should lose their right to be recognized as a union.

    in any case, they can’t be expected to be supported if they strike. methinks apfa was a little penny-wise and pound-foolish.

  • Tdub fan

    The APFA stance has always been that it was protecting its “own” members seniority by stapling the TW f/a’s to the very bottom of the list. Well they did and nAAtive seniority has stagnated there for 10 years… so in essence with the click of a stapler they shot themselves in the foot.
    Had the relatively small TW workforce been slotted in throughout the system fairly (like they did with OZ) they would have disappeared throughout the system and barely made a ripple, and the seniority issue would not still BE an issue…many would have retired already…and people would have continued to move up the food chain.
    Now, instead of bringing the dreaded expensive TW f/a’s back online from furlough, AA would currently be hiring the cheaper fresh new hires off the street that everyone wants…the ones that every other carrier is currently courting. EVERYBODY then continues to move up the list, and EVERYONE wins.
    So… through APFAs short sided anti-union actions they essentially screwed their own members instead of helping them.

  • Robert Applegate

    Everyone, including APFA legal council, knows it was wrong to staple. When the subject comes to their attention, they justify their misdeeds with a lame excuse like; “it’s difficult to unscramble an egg”. Everyone also knows that ignoring a festering wound will not cure the harm caused by the faulty bait & switch policy administered by APFA. TWA Flight Attendants are only the latest example of a long line of failure to represent the memberships best interests.

    “TWO GREAT AIRLINES & ONE GREAT FUTURE” & “RESTORE & MORE” were supposed to be INCLUSIVE not EXCLUSIVE PROMISES. I suppose that’s why the first decade of the new millennium has been labeled “THE LOST DECADE”. For many harmed by a failed leadership, it has meant lost wages, lost opportunity, lost seniority, lost medical coverage, lost home, lost savings and in many cases lose of life. With all this loss, how can APFA say they are bargaining in good faith?

  • TS

    APFA should not be identified as a “Union”. They have not behaved like a union from the very start of this “Two great airlines, one great future”. TWA employees have fought longer and harder than any other union group that I know of. Thank you for taking the time to comment on the situation with the TWA flight attendants.

  • Pat Fusco

    I also started flying when I was 20 and was with TWA. APFA not only stapled us to the bottom of the seniority list but they have continued to make it extremely difficult for us. In January of 2010, they voted to change their policy of not having to pay union dues while on furlough or any kind of involuntary leave such as military. APFA had had this policy of no union dues for years!!! Of course, the only people on furlough were former TWA people. Now, we have to pay the union dues every month or we can’t vote or even get into the union website. When we finally get called back we still owe all the back dues even though we haven’t had any representation (ever). The poor military people who are defending our country unfortunately got caught up in this just so APFA could keep us from voting and to make it even more difficult for the former TWA people. When we do get called back to work, we still owe all the back union dues even though we have been unable to log into the union website or participate.
    The word HYPOCRITE comes to mind! APFA is always lending support to other unions but they could not wait to staple fellow union brothers and sisters to the bottom of the seniority list. They do not deserve to call themselves a union.
    With the announcement this week of AA recalling, APFA announced they would work til all recalls were back flying. I want to know what they did or are doing! A few former TWA people worked tirelessly,lobbying and working with Senator McCaskill of Mo. so no other airline union would be stapled like we were. It was too bad that the former TWA people were not included in this but it was a great accomplishment! Many thanks to Senator McCaskill and our fellow TWA flight attendants involved in this.

  • monica lane

    i am former twa. i turned 55 in april. had apfa used date of hire to determine our rightful seniority in 2001 when american acquired twa, i would have flown until this past birthday and retired. instead, after being furloughed for going on 8 years, i will now have to fly til i am 70 or unable, whichever comes first.

  • Martie M Hambas

    I too am former TWA, and harmed by the union that failed to represent all members when TWA was purchased by American. True , this issue of seniority retention was a court issue, and also true the court agreed that it will never again be an issue going forward: we won that issue for all future cases..Still American did not rectify the injustice when it ” welcomed” us into their ranks as they continued to staple of us to the bottom with 17-49 years seniority, just below their flight attendants with 2 years seniority. I flew mostly turn around flights which afforded me the opportunity to be home on a daily basis while I raised 6 children in New York, until they closed the TWA New York base, leaving only American Airlines base open for their original hirees . This occurred in October 2001, after I and others flew for he carrier 9/11 as the events of that day unfolded over New York. I with my co-workers had to commute to retain our jobs when all else in NY, inclusing alternate employment was non existent. American additionally needed to transfer and displace their original group to fill the void needed in our absence since they took over the routes TWA had out of NY. For the next two years all TWA New York flight attendants had to commute to work to St. Louis, Missouri, on their own without guaranteed transportation to keep their jobs before being laid off in 2003, we additionally received St.Louis unemployment benefits of maximum 250 a week, even though we paid taxes to NY, and lived here.( Cobra payments were over 800 a month). I had been wth TWA/ AA 24 years at this point. The past seven and a half years being on the street without building on my pension,or having health benefits and life insurance, ( Cobra benefits for 18 months expired ) , being stripped of seniority attained through the carrier I previously worked for because the rules differed at the new carrier, and then being stapled to the bottom, has left me in the similar predicament as all my co- workers. We are all loyal hard working individuals that early in life made a career choice which we still hold in our hearts,as their as less than 2000 that now remain. We were all looking forward to the day when we would make the choice to retire with dignity with the knowledge we would live out our final years with a pension to sustain us and enjoy the fruits of our labor revisiting the world we brought to others. The choice to retire is no longer ours as we slowly begin to fill the active ranks some time next year, we will have to make up for lost income, lost pension activity, all the lost years as we once again take to the skies now, no longer in our 20′s and rebuild what OUR union stripped from us.

  • Barry Graham

    I have always said that unions are of bi value to anyone other than the union itself. This is why we don’t have unions where I work. Our HR processes are far superior to anything a union could offer

  • Ace Kincaid

    This article is perfectly timed to remind the American public that Union membership in virtually every industry over the last thirty years is now totally focused upon advancing the financial well-being of it’s membership, with no regard for anything else.

    What do you think publicizing this dirt, factual as it may, does for the Democrat Party just before a major election? Three guesses… and the last two don’t count.

  • Kae Shultz

    Plain and simple, as others have stated: APFA is not a union. A union – look the word up in your Webster’s dictionary – does not treat some of its members under certain rules and others as if they are the ugly step-children.

  • Robert Applegate

    I question the validity of statements made by APFA President Laura Glading.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    APFA President Laura Glading commented on today’s announcement,

    “We are extremely pleased with the recall of 545 Flight Attendants. It has been a long and difficult struggle for these furloughed Flight Attendants and we are thrilled that they will be back on the job. APFA has worked tirelessly in urging American management to recall all furloughed Flight Attendants.

    “With the expansion announcement also being made this morning in conjunction with the official start of the joint business agreement with British Airways and Iberia, the beefing up of key hubs, and the imminent approval of the alliance with Japan Airlines, the future for American Airlines is bright.

    “APFA will continue to work with American until each and every one of the remaining furloughed Flight Attendants is back to work.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    APFA negotiations, under the NMB, have been suspended since May & are scheduled to resume on October 19th. Since APFA has not had any face to face meetings with the company, how can anyone say they have & will work tirelessly in our behalf ,” until each and every one of the remaining furloughed flight attendants is back to work. The only tangible efforts that most of the furloughed flight attendants have seen are the added burden of Union Dues on flight attenadants that are furloughed, on extended medical leave or military service. These flight attendants have been targeted & disenfranchised by the union claiming to represent their best interests. They will all be greeted with a $500.00 plus DUE BILL in order to have their good standing & voting rights restored. If our seniority was restored with the due bill, I could understand them taking partial credit for our recall.

  • Pingback: TWA FAs return-let the Games Begin

  • KB

    I am a flight attendant for American Airlnes, with eleven years seniority. When I began the process of becoming a flight attendant, I considered all the “legacy” carriers, and interviewed with several. I had sentimental hopes about TWA because I flew them the first time I went overseas. But I knew they’d been through some tough times and I remember thinking, “TWA might not be around much longer, I’d better steer clear.” I look at being hired by AA as a serendipitous event that has blessed my life in many ways.

    So why should former TWA flight attendants have seniority over me at American? They did not work for AA for the bulk of their career, they worked for TWA. That’s who they hired on with; that’s where they stayed. And what about their own Union? Why blame APFA for all their woes when their own union was obviously not strong enough to “deal” a better seniority agreement for their membership. What about a colleague of mine– just senior to me at AA– who flew for TWA previously, saw the writing on the wall, and hired on with AA of her own volition several years before the merger? Former TWA flight attendants- with 33 or 44 or however many years seniority at TWA- should definitely not have seniority over her at AA. And what about former TWA still moaning about being “on the street” after seven or more years of furlough? Where was their Plan B? Why wasn’t it implemented? Why would they even consider returning to AA at this point, at their age? We all know a flight attendant “retirement” is a joke; no one in their right mind would plan on it alone carrying them through. In these interim years, former TWA flight attendants need not have been stopped from working, going to school, planning for the future.

    And lastly, all flight attendants’ seniority at AA has been stopped for the past decade due to the economy, not the “stapling.” Even if TWA flight attendants had been interspersed, it would have made little difference in the seniority climb because no one is retiring (or, relatively few are) in this economy, and AA has not hired since 2001. The fact that no one has mentioned here is TWA flight attendants did receive PAY seniority, just not bidding seniority. I am sorry that due to the ECONOMY they have been furloughed and not able to earn the top rate of pay at AA (it stops at 15 years- how’s that for a company incentive for longevity?) all this time, but I am not sorry to be senior to them.

  • Michel

    Agree with you totally.

  • Kelly

    It’s amazing to me that the TWA f/a’s now cry foul. But no one was crying when they receieved top pay right from the get go! I had been an employee of AA before I started flying an I had to start at the bottom of the senority list as well as bottom of the payscale. And I’m so tired of hearing that the APFA sold them out!! Excuse me that was our union looking at for us! Just as it was suppose to do. Where was the TWA union? And why isn’t anyone blaming them for selling them out as you all say? There is so much more to this story that isn’t being told. The only side that is told is the from the ones who are crying now because 911 happened an they got laid off. If 911 never happened they will be jumping for joy with their pay raises and the fact the their company got purchased before it went under. Also the recall lmitations for the TWA f/a’s as been removed thanks to the APFA otherwise it wld have ran out along time ago. And do you really think AA wanted to keep them..NO!!!! When they could go hire people off the street for 1/3 of the cost. So instead of blaming the APFA for all your woes look at your former union for not fighting harder for you. As my union fight to protect what was rightfully mine!!

  • Kelly

    It’s amazing to me that the TWA f/a’s now cry foul. But no one was crying when they receieved top pay right from the get go! I had been an employee of AA before I started flying an I had to start at the bottom of the senority list as well as bottom of the payscale. And I’m so tired of hearing that the APFA sold them out!! Excuse me that was our union looking out for us! Just as it was suppose to do. Where was the TWA union? And why isn’t anyone blaming them for selling them out as you all say? There is so much more to this story that isn’t being told. The only side that is told is the from the ones who are crying now because 911 happened an they got laid off. If 911 never happened they will be jumping for joy with their pay raises and the fact the their company got purchased before it went under. Also the recall lmitations for the TWA f/a’s as been removed thanks to the APFA otherwise it wld have ran out along time ago. And do you really think AA wanted to keep them..NO!!!! When they could go hire people off the street for 1/3 of the cost. So instead of blaming the APFA for all your woes look at your former union for not fighting harder for you. As my union fought to protect what was rightfully mine!!

  • Irish Elf

    What AA flight attendants do not understand is that until all TWA LLC flight attendants are trained they still have their TWA occupational seniority in St Louis. It was an acquisition of TWA Inc forced into a bankruptcy by AMR then a new AA Company formed call TWA LLC, which its goal was then to merge into AA.

    It got past the seniority issue by giving all TWA Inc employees a “new” bidding (furlough) seniority using the date that AA formed TWA LLC. It was a sneaky way to get out of the seniority that was promised. APFA wrote up a contract signed with AA, added new rules and became a hero to its own. This is the first time that a Company has added a new Company to be used for the purpose of helping get rid of their high salaried employees. APFA saved its flight attendants and the Company saved lots of money. Those crying foul the most, are those that were new at the time of the merger and so are insecure that they will lose what they know they got away with. Any union member from any union will tell you that what APFA and AA did to the TWA flight attendants is unbelievably atrocious to say the least. These insecure junior people do not know or understand the brotherhood of unionism…it certainly isn’t what they think it is.

    However, will the TWA flight attendants ever give up their fight for what is rightfully theirs… don’t count on it!

  • Jude

    You are misinformed. 

    “In the recent United / Continental merger, the larger union at United,
    the Association of Flight Attendants, has agreed to honor all seniority
    earned by the Continental attendants, even though they belonged to a
    different union as was the case in the American / TWA deal.”

    The Flight Attendants at United and Continental are PRESENTLY in the midst of a union representation vote between the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW). 

    BOTH unions have agreed to honor all seniority.  The AFA is NOT the larger union, nor is it the prevailing union (as the votes are still being cast, through June 29th), they are a very small part of the Communication Workers of America (CWA).  The comparison to the American / TWA deal is inaccurate.

    The treatment from APFA that you describe, however, IS accurate. 

  • Suestew

    As an AA flight attendant of 26 years, who has been flying with some of the recalled TWA flight attendants, I should be getting training pay and hazard pay! These folks are NOT doing a good job. Sorry, and I am talking safetly related issues!  I do however understand and how unfair big companies and unions can seem. But the TWA group need to take issue with their own IAM union who AGREED to the seniority.

  • sallystewAA

    Here’s the big difference that the TWA f/a’s always fail to remember:
    it was THEIR UNION who sold them out to the APFA. They AGREED to the terms of the agreement of the “acquisition” (NOT merger.) Their UNION knew what it was doing – but failed to tell their membership ’til after it was too late! They keep blaming AA’s union – when it was their own union’s fault for selling them out. They got top of the scale wages, and if they stayed in St Louis they could retain their TWA seniority there.

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