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.