Union YES! American Airlines Passenger Service Agents Win Largest Organizing Victory in the South in Decades

Union, YES! American Airlines Passenger Service Agents Win Largest Organizing Victory in the South in Decades

In what Communications Workers of America (CWA) heralds as “the largest labor organizing victory in the South in decades,” passenger service agents at American Airlines voted to form a union after a 19-year struggle.  In the vote announced today, 86% of the 9,000 agents who voted favored the union, which will now represent 14,500 agents, the vast majority of whom live in the South. American Airlines agents in the West are represented by the Teamsters and the two unions form a joint CWA-IBT unit to bargain with the airline.

Nearly three-quarters of the agents work in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona and several thousand are home-based reservations agents.  The wide range of jobs the members work include: reservations, ticket and gate agents, baggage service agents, customer assistance representatives, customer service supervisors, club representatives, passenger operations center representatives and special service counter agents.

About the result, CWA said:

The vote clearly shows that workers who can make a fair choice about union representation want bargaining rights. New American agents are concentrated in southern states and work at diverse locations, including large and small airports, call centers and at home. Across every group, they voted for bargaining rights and union representation.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke about the broader importance of the victory:

Clearly, one of the largest labor organizing victories in the South in decades is a historic day. But it also shows that the future of the U.S. labor movement is alive, as these workers can be found at airports, call centers, even working from home. The right to collectively bargain will always be what our working family fights for.

The agents themselves were ecstatic about the victory. Richard Shaughnessy, who has been an agent at Miami International Airport for 27 years, said:

The merger between American Airlines and US Airways is an exciting time for all of us. But even more exciting is our victory today. We’re the front-line employees who interact with our customers every day, and we are looking forward to a positive relationship with management to make this merger ‘work’ for all of us. We are anxious to get to the bargaining table.

Carroll Locklear, a home-based reservations agent in Texas, said:

I’ve been with American Airlines for 18 years, and through all of those years I have been praying for this day. We have been the odd employees out for so long because we were the only employees without union representation. Gone are the days that management can take what they want when they want. This will be a win-win for all of us.

Eula Smith, a customer service agent in Charlotte, N.C., added:

We feel stronger now with this vote. I’m a 60-year-old woman with 42 years with this employer. You can’t live in the South and make a decent wage unless you are in senior management in a corporation or belong to a union. We need this. We need not just a union, we need CWA.

Ken Grunwald, a 23-year reservations agent at the call center in North Carolina, said:

I’m proud to remember everyone over the years who worked so hard for our union voice, who never gave up in the face of adversity, and who gave their blood, sweat and tears so that we would have the opportunity to celebrate this victory today. It’s a victory for all American Airlines employees! I’m so excited to think that we will finally be able to negotiate a legally binding contract. We now all have each others’ back.

Janet Elston, an agent at Dallas International Airport, concluded:

Nineteen years ago, a handful of agents started a drive to obtain representation for [American Airlines] airport and reservations agents. Many hundreds of activists have spent thousands of hours over the years to get us to today’s election result. They never wavered and never, ever gave up. We have finally achieved what most thought was impossible: union representation for our work group. Now we’ll begin a new working relationship with our company, with a legal binding contract.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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When Workers Come Together, We Win: Working Families Victory Roundup

Letter Carrier Michael Shea from Georgia. Photos via Letter Carriers, NALC.

Working people scored major victories over the past several months, organizing new workplaces and winning fights to raise wages.

Here are some highlights of recent working families victories:

ORGANIZING VICTORIES

Texas Machinists Win Back-to-Back Organizing Drives: Union growth continues in Texas as members from the Machinists (IAM) successfully organized their second consecutive workplace in Texas this month, adding nearly 1,000 new members.

Point Park University Faculty Organize Hundreds to Gain Benefits: More than 300 part-time faculty members at Point Park University in Pittsburgh are on the road to a union voice after voting to certify with Adjunct Faculty Association-United Steelworkers (AFA-USW).

Missouri EMS Workers Win Organizing Fight: An overwhelming majority of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) professionals in Independence, Missouri, voted to join EMS Workers United-AFSCME, strengthening the local union and providing essential protections for Missouri workers.

RAISING WAGES VICTORIES

Massachusetts Workers Help Push Minimum Wage Hike: Working people in Massachusetts scored a big win as Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation that will increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2017.

Newark, N.J., Paid Sick-Leave Ordinance Goes Into Effect: A new paid sick-leave law in Newark, N.J., will allow full and part-time employees to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick-leave per year. Similar paid sick-leave laws have passed in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.

Momentum Builds for Minimum Wage Hike in Nebraska: Workers in Nebraska put a measure on the 2014 ballot to raise the minimum wage to $9 and hour by 2016.

California Workers Benefit from Minimum Wage Increase: An increase in California’s minimum wage to $9 an hour has taken effect, with the wage set to increase again in 2016 to $10 an hour. Meanwhile, efforts continue in Los Angeles to increase the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour.

COMMUNITY VICTORIES

Philadelphia Building Trades Go to Work with New Housing Deal: A deal between Philadelphia building-trades unions and the Philadelphia Housing Authority will put people to work in union jobs while creating new affordable housing for Pennsylvanians.

Letter Carriers Complete Successful Food Drive: Members of the Letter Carriers (NALC) completed their annual food drive, collecting more than 72 million pounds of food for families in need.

Union Volunteers Help Aspiring Americans Earn Citizenship: On June 28, at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., volunteers helped nearly 100 people through the U.S. citizenship process, enabling them to file paperwork with the help of legal and immigration experts.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Union, Yes: Machinists Win Back-to-Back Organizing Drives in Texas

Exciting things are happening in Texas. The Machinists (IAM) today announced a second important organizing victory, this time for 475 office and clerical personnel employed by L3 at the Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) in Corpus Christi. This follows an April organizing win for 450 helicopter mechanics and technicians at the same facility.

The workers will join IAM Local 2916, which already has more than 500 members under six contracts at the adjoining Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, as well as the new members from April’s election.

“Our organizers were able to overcome the anti-union bias that is promoted in some southern states by providing concrete examples of what IAM contracts have already been secured for similar workers throughout the South,” said IAM Southern Territory Vice President Mark Blondin. “The IAM also has a history in the South that goes back 126 years, with well-established bargaining relationships in shipbuilding, defense and aerospace.”

Blondin credited the union’s months-long education campaign that preceded the vote for ensuring workers at L3 knew their legal rights and understood the benefits of working under a collective bargaining agreement.

“The office workers mirrored the mechanics in needing better wages and benefits,” said IAM Southern Territory Grand Lodge Representative Ramon Garcia, who helped coordinate the organizing effort with assistance from District Lodge 776 and district organizers Chub McCrory and Sylvia Zavala.

“This was a big team effort, with staff and volunteers involved from across our territory. It’s exciting to see workers’ views change about the need for a union,” said Blondin. “Across the South, we’re hearing from workers about the need for the voice on the job and better wages. We expect these latest wins to lead to increased organizing opportunities for the IAM.”

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workers File Complaint Under New Houston Wage Theft Ordinance

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On Tuesday, a group of workers organized to file a complaint under the new Houston wage theft ordinance.

Erik Lopez and 12 other workers, in collaboration with the Faith and Justice Worker Center, claim that they’re owed $200,000 in unpaid wages, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The group, who did sub-contracting work on city projects, claim that they were forced to work 80 hour work weeks with no overtime, denied tax forms, and paid with personal checks and cash in an attempt to keep them off the books.

“(My boss) would tell me it didn’t really suit him to pay me overtime,” said Lopez, 30, a native of Guerrero state in Mexico, who came to Houston 14 years ago seeking work. “I worked all the time, but we struggled paying our bills.”

Lopez notes that alone, he probably lost out on $40,000 due to his employers’ negligence.

“I always wanted to do something about it, because it’s not right,” he said. “But I was afraid.”

In November, Lopez heard about the wage ordinance and decided to take action.

Working America was instrumental in the passing of a wage ordinance that brings wage theft cases to the forefront while banning violators from obtaining contracts, permits and licenses with the city.

For months, we petitioned and organized workers in hopes of holding businesses accountable for taking advantage of working families.

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Victory! How Working America Helped Save Four Schools From Closure

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Thanks in part to our efforts, on Thursday March 13th Working America members, in conjunction with other faith, community, and labor organizations, delivered over 500 petitions to the Houston Independent School Board protesting the proposal to close 5 neighborhood schools.

The result: the Houston Independent School District (HISD) voted to save four out of five public schools in Houston.

Many consider the decision a major victory for Houstonians who, according to the Houston Chronicle, have already witnessed HISD close 19 schools since 2010.

The HISD decision came after dozens of community protests and thousands of angry parents, teachers, and community members making their voices heard. On the day of the vote, 17 Working America members held a press conference outside of HISD Headquarters and stood in solidarity with other faith, community, and labor organizations to protest the closure of more public schools.

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WA member Sergio Serrano, who wants to send his 5 year old daughter to Dodson Elementary—a school slated for closure, spoke to the media at the press conference and testified in front of the Board of Trustees.  Elisabeth Johnson, an HISD Alumni, and Bernard Sampson, a concern community member, also testified in front of the Board. The message of, save our schools, was strong and clear across the board.

Carol McGregor, one of the seventeen members in attendance, said “It’s clear that this victory was a result of a strong community, standing up for strong public schools. The Houston School Board had no choice but to vote our way. I’m proud to be a part of Working America and a part this win.”

To get involved with Working America in Houston, contact Working America Member Coordinator, Taylor Thompson at tthompson@workingamerica.org.

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Join Us in the Fight To Save Our Schools

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) provides public education to more than 200,000 students.

Recently, HISD made a last-minute proposal to close five neighborhood schools at the end of the 2014 school year. Although three schools have been saved, a Thursday vote will determine if the remaining two schools will close.

If the board chooses to close the schools, students will be forced to travel farther from home and into Houston’s other, already overcrowded public schools. Class sizes will grow, students will receive less individual attention, and overall educational outcomes will worsen.

Texas is 49th out of all 50 states in education spending. We need to invest in our public schools, not make the situation worse than it already is.

In response to this, Working America members decided to take action by engaging local media, community members and key decision makers at the school board.

We’re hosting a press conference tomorrow to discuss the potential closing of the schools, at the HISD Administration building, 4400 W. 18th St., at 4 p.m.

Other actions we’ve taken

Our members Matthew Rigney and Elizabeth Johnson, a former HISD student and daughter of an HISD teacher, headed up outreach to fellow Working America members and the larger community. Together, they signed up 25 new Working America members at a district-sponsored meeting held for those affected by the proposed school closures.

Members also organized a phone bank to follow up with new members and invite them to join in the fight.

“The district may be able to ignore one or two people speaking out about this proposal, but they cannot ignore us all,” Rigney said. “If we really want to stop the attack on public education, we need to build our power through community support.”

Activist Mike Hicks, a single father of an HISD student, spoke out against the plan in a radio interview with KPFT 90.1FM on Friday Feb. 28, saying, “When you close a school, you ruin a community. Families with kids move out in search of other, more conveniently located schools, leaving only empty houses behind.”

Carol McGregor, activist, and mother of four public school-educated daughters, wrote a letter to the Houston Chronicle urging teachers, parents and community members to partner together to change the appalling pattern of overcrowded, underfunded schools.

“How [is the district] considering the closure of five Houston schools when more than 1,200 classrooms are overcrowded? If HISD thinks school closures and bigger classes are acceptable, we’re headed in the wrong direction,” McGregor said.

With little less than a week remaining before the vote, members have set their final plans into motion.

On Thursday, March 13, Working America members will head to Houston Independent School District’s headquarters to raise their voices about this important issue.

Take action now: send a message to the HISD and tell them to keep our schools open.

To get involved with Working America in Houston, contact Taylor Thompson, Working America Member Coordinator at tthompson@workingamerica.org.

Photo courtesy of scarlettgreen on Flickr.

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Labor Leaders See Promise in Organizing in Texas

The AFL-CIO Executive Council is meeting in Texas this week as a sign of confidence that the southern state has great potential for workers who are organizing on the job. A Houston Chronicle profile takes a look at efforts in Texas and goals for broader organizing efforts in the South:

The AFL-CIO executive [council] has come to Texas, setting its sights on what has been inhospitable terrain and betting workers in the state can be drawn to organized labor’s efforts to raise wages.

Buoyed by the growth of the energy industry along the Gulf Coast and fortified with organizing wins at poultry plants and manufacturing parts makers, the heads of some of the nation’s largest labor unions are meeting in Texas for the first time Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hilton Americas-Houston.

Members of the executive [council] hope the labor federation can continue to notch victories across the South, either through traditional organizing or public campaigns to boost the minimum wage.

They are meeting in a city where, less than a decade ago, labor celebrated its first large-scale victory in a quarter-century when a union once affiliated with the AFL-CIO organized the janitors who clean the largest office buildings.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., said the federation wants to send the message that the labor federation is expanding its horizons to new places and to new people.

“Our focus is on raising wages,” Trumka said, claiming during a news conference Monday that “everyone from the pope to the president” is embracing the global efforts.

Read the full article.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Governors Who Reject Medicaid Painfully Unaware of the Pain They Are Causing

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The most under-reported fact about our health care system in 2014 is this: 5 million Americans don’t have access to affordable health coverage simply because their governors (or majority of legislators) refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid expansion would cost the states nothing for the first three years, and after that time the federal government would pick up an overwhelming majority of the costs. Yet, when asked, these politicians frequently cite cost as the prohibiting factor to Medicaid expansion. That’s because the real reason would–and should–be embarrassing: they want to be seen as “tough” toward President Obama and the new health care law, and rejecting Medicaid expansion is the best and easiest way to do that.

These politicians include Rick Perry, governor of Texas, where nearly one out of four people don’t have health insurance. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is another: 700,000 Pennsylvanians are denied affordable coverage because of his opposition to expanding Medicaid.

Working America members in Pennsylvania have been active in pressuring Gov. Corbett and the legislature to change their tune. In December, our longtime member Georgeanne Koehler wrote a heartfelt letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in favor of Medicaid expansion, citing her 50 years in the health care industry. “I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics,” she wrote in the letter, which she dedicated to her late brother.

John Miklos, a member hailing from Uptown, followed up with a December 26 letter titled “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid.” John described several different common scenarios where the average working person would benefit from expansion. ”These scenarios are not imaginary,” he wrote, “People I know well live them every day.”

James Barum, another active Working America member in Pittsburgh, followed up these letters with a personal story of his own. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his letter, “Health care needs,” in Thursday’s paper. We’ve included the letter in its entirety:

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On the subject of the Dec. 27 letter “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid,” I thought that I would share a personal experience that may give readers pause on this issue.

A friend of mine works in the service industry brewing coffee. One day, when I was in line at that café to buy a drink, I saw her begin to cry while working. She was working furiously, making lattes and trying her best to meet each customer’s needs.

Somewhere in the chaos, a manager and I stopped her. In the break room, I spoke with her about what had occurred.

While picking up a tray, she felt a sharp pain shoot through her back. She always had issues with her back, and this happens to her occasionally, but never this bad. I asked if she had health insurance or could see a doctor, and she said, “No, I don’t, I’ll just have to tough it out.”

This saddened me, but when I heard about Gov. Tom Corbett’s reluctance to expand Medicaid, that sadness turned to anger — anger at the injustice of a friend who works so hard to serve others but cannot get her home state to serve her basic need for health care.

My friend and thousands just like her would qualify for Medicaid if our governor had the courage to put his constituent’s peace of mind above political games.

Nothing will get done if readers don’t give him the “encouragement” he needs.

JAMES BARUM
Robinson

Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.

Photo by @Fox43 on Twitter

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Houston Workers Celebrate Passage of Wage Theft Ordinance

After months of door-to-door organizing, petitioning, phone calls to lawmakers and mobilizing by a coalition of more than 30 community, faith and labor groups including Working America and Fe y Justicia Worker Center, the Houston City Council today passed a historic city wage theft ordinance that restricts the city from doing business with wage theft offenders. Houston is the first city in Texas to do so.

The ordinance provides a process to bring wage-theft claims forward and calls for the city to build a public database to track and bar wage theft offenders from getting city contracts, permits or licenses.

“The Houston City Council’s passage of this ordinance proves that the voice of the people is stronger than the checkbooks of special interests,” said Working America member Elisabeth Johnson. “I’m excited to be part of this amazing movement and look forward to the next fight.”

Johnson collected letters in favor of the ordinance and spoke at the recent city council meeting where the ordinance was considered.

“We went door-to-door talking to thousands of Houstonians, mobilizing them to call, write and push the City Council to stop allowing a few businesses to take advantage of working families,” said Durrel Douglas, Working America Texas State Director. “We called on our lawmakers to listen to the people—and they did.”

The ordinance goes into effect immediately.

For more information, contact: Durrel Douglas, 832-857-5737; Aruna Jain, 301-461-9576

Photo by @SenatorSylvia on Twitter

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Up Late with Alec Baldwin and the Workers Defense Project

MSNBC’s new Friday late night show “Up Late with Alec Baldwin” recently featured an in-depth interview with Cristina Tzintzún, executive director of the Workers Defense Project (WDP). She explained the hardships and abuses immigrant workers face, especially undocumented construction workers in Texas, and some of the successes—such as the recent wage and job safety protections approved last month by the Austin City Council—WDP has seen.

Baldwin told viewers that while the battle over comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship “plays out in Washington, out in the rest of the country, out of the spotlight,” immigrant workers are “fighting real battles to feed their families.”

Why? Because without the protection of citizenship, they’re vulnerable to exploitation like wage theft—people hiring them to do work and then not paying them—unsafe and deadly work conditions like denying water breaks to people working outside in the summer heat. The Workers Defense Project in Texas is leading the fight to change this.

Watch part one of the interview above and part two below.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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