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United Mechanics Join the Teamsters

For the past couple of years, the mechanics at United have been embroiled in a union representation fight. It all came to a head yesterday when just over 60 percent of the mechanics voted to leave AMFA and join the Teamsters.

AMFA used to be the up-and-coming union with tough talk and promises of no wage concessions. After the union struck Northwest in 2005, that reputation for success disappeared. Northwest was able to replace the striking mechanics with little disruption to their operation. About 15 months later, the remaining members on strike finally settled (pdf) and were given the opportunity to come back . . . eventually. They were considered laid off, and if they took only 5 weeks of severance, they could have the right to be recalled if Northwest needed more mechanics. Ten weeks of severance were offered if they just walked away.

Since that time, other unions have been trying to move in on AMFA's membership. It looks like as of yesterday, the Teamsters have been successful with United's mechanics.

The big issue here is with outsourcing. The mechanics want to keep their jobs, and the Teamsters say "United mechanics will now have the Teamsters strength behind them in their fight against outsourcing to foreign repair stations. United has cut more maintenance positions than any other U.S. airline." Will they be successful? It's going to be a tough road. Probably the only way to convince United to reverse its outsourcing decisions is for the union to allow a more competitive contract to be put in place, and even that's questionable. That would of course mean lower wages and/or more competitive work rules, and I think that we all know that's unlikely.

For United's part, they put out the obligatory statement, but it came with a warning. "United is committed to working productively with the elected representatives of our employees, and we look forward to working with the Teamsters/AMFA to ensure United's position as a strong, profitable and competitive airline."

So the bottom line is that if the Teamsters can find a way to enhance United's strong, profitable, and competitive status, then maybe they can make headway. Otherwise, I wouldn't expect to see much change.