Teamsters claim success in Indianapolis blitz

September 19, 2007

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is trying to enlist local workers in its attempt to wrest representation of United Airlines mechanics from another union.

A Teamsters organizer says the union contacted 350 former United mechanics in the Indianapolis area over the weekend to try to persuade them to go along with an effort to abandon the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.

The local mechanics haven't worked for United since the Chicago airline closed its sprawling Indianapolis maintenance hub in 2003.

Nevertheless, the Teamsters are courting them because they retain the right to lifetime recall rights, thus can vote alongside existing United workers to choose the union representing them.

"We need to take a stand to keep aviation mechanics in middle-class status," said Kim Keller, deputy director of the Teamsters' organizing department.

The Aircraft Mechanics now represents about 5,500 United workers and 4,500 furloughed workers, Keller said, meaning an election would affect about 10,000 people.

Approximately 1,200 United mechanics were laid off in 2003, although another 1,800 lost jobs earlier as the carrier encountered financial trouble.

Many have left the Indianapolis area in search of work, although the Teamsters thinks 1,000 still live in the region. Those remaining toil in occupations ranging from tree trimming to air-conditioning repair.

The Teamsters can better represent the workers as United considers spinning off some maintenance work, Keller claimed.

Steve MacFarlane, the Aircraft Mechanics assistant national director, shot back that the Teamsters would fare no better at protecting workers in an era when airlines are outsourcing maintenance.

"The Teamsters have been getting heads handed to them as well," MacFarlane said. "Every carrier, without exception, is being dramatically affected."

The Teamsters represents airline mechanics at carriers including Continental Airlines, UPS and Airtran Airways.

The Aircraft Mechanics has Southwest and Northwest, among other airlines.

Keller of the Teamsters said workers contacted over the weekend showed interest in returning to United. About 77 percent were interested in helping current United mechanics who want to jump to the Teamsters, she added. Keller stopped short of disclosing how many signed cards to authorize an election through the National Mediation Board.

The board requires 35 percent of eligible voters to sign the cards. Still, the Teamsters want a higher percentage before pushing the matter to a vote, she said.

The Teamsters plans return blitzes to try to reach all 10,000 current and former United workers who are members of Aircraft Mechanics.
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