US workers battle for union representation

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THE demand for union representation is growing amongst workers in the United States.

Loyola University catering workers rejoiced on November 2nd, after they received news that their employer, Aramark, agreed to recognise a workers’ union if a majority expresses interest in joining.

Aramark has also agreed to remain neutral throughout the workers’ decision-making process.

Unite Here – the local union that workers have consulted during their mobilisation efforts and are considering joining – delivered the news during a meeting with Loyola workers’ organising committee.

‘People were crying (at the meeting),’ said Danielle Wisnasky, a 21-year-old biology major and student worker who is part of the organising committee.

‘We’re proud of ourselves for being able to set this up,’ she said.

Workers have cited problems such as disrespect from managers, low wages and being overworked and understaffed as reasons for their interest in unionising.

Aramark is the Philadelphia-based company hired by Loyola to run the university’s cafeterias and markets.

Kyle Schafer, a union organiser with Unite Here, said the agreement to stay neutral guarantees workers a fair process, free from harassment or intimidation during the time it takes workers to make the decision on whether or not they want to unionise.

Aramark managers said they would recognise a workers’ union if a majority of workers signed cards expressing their intention to join.

Unite Here’s Schafer said that although some workers have already signed their cards, the total number of cards would not be officially tallied up for another few weeks.

Once Aramark recognises the union, workers will conduct a survey amongst themselves about what they want changed in their contracts, Schafer said.

A negotiating committee made up of workers’ leaders will then bring the survey results to a meeting with an Aramark lawyer to begin contract negotiations.

An experienced negotiator from Unite Here will join the negotiating committee to offer support, Schafer added.

‘This is something that workers around the country have to fight for . . . sometimes a long time,’ he said.

‘So it’s really exciting that Aramark at Loyola has agreed to be cooperative.’

Aramark’s decision came a few weeks after campus dining workers requested company neutrality from managers on October 13.

About 20 workers presented petitions signed by about 70 per cent of the nearly 200 Loyola dining workers throughout campus.

Unionisation efforts had mobilised underground for months before workers approached management on October 13.

Letters of support for the workers’ efforts circulated among Loyola students and faculty and a community support event was held on October 20 at St Gertrude Catholic Parish.

Senior Andrea Rodriguez was one of more than 1,000 students who signed the letter of support for the Aramark workers.

‘The economy’s hard and everybody could use a little stability wherever they can find it,’ said the 22-year-old political science and international studies major.

‘I think that it’s awesome that they (Aramark) decided to stay neutral.’

Employees at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have also won the right to vote on union representation.

Last Friday’s decision by the Federal Labour Relations Authority (FLRA) is a significant victory for federal employee unions.

It paves the way for a campaign by the two largest unions for government workers – the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union – to represent some 50,000 TSA staff.

‘It is no secret that the morale of the Transport Security Officer (TSO) workforce is terrible as a result of favouritism, a lack of fair and respectful treatment from many managers, poor and unhealthy conditions in some airports, poor training and testing protocols and a poor pay system,’ said AFGE union president, John Gage.

‘The morale problems are documented by the government’s own surveys,’ said Gage.

‘TSOs need a recognised union voice at work, and the important decision of the FLRA finally sets the process in motion to make that right a reality.’

The NTEU treasury employees union called for collective bargaining rights for the TSA workers.

‘We will redouble our continuing efforts to win for TSA employees the right to bargain a contract before an election is concluded,’ said NTEU president, Colleen M Kelley.

‘That will be the best path to significant improvements in their work lives,’ Kelley added.

TSA employees have already joined both unions, but do not as yet have collective bargaining rights.

The union recognition ballot – which the AFGE’s president Gage said may be held early in 2011 – will allow the workforce to decide which of the two unions will be their exclusive representative.

‘We are ready for an election, and we expect to win it,’ the NTEU’s Kelley said, although the AFGE union has made similar declarations.

In Seattle, the pilots who deliver, ferry and train others to fly aircraft built by the Boeing Company are on a path to become the newest bargaining unit of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA)/IFPTE Local 2001.

The union’s governing council voted last Thursday, November 11, to begin formal discussions with the Airline Manufacturing Pilots Association (AMPA) to bring the independent bargaining unit into the SPEEA.

At the same meeting, the SPEEA Council approved a motion to organise Boeing’s Field Service Representatives (FSRs) in the United States.

‘We’re proud the pilots and the FSRs want to join our union,’ said SPEEA President Tom McCarty.

‘This widens SPEEA’s reach and puts our union on an upward trajectory of representing more professionals at Boeing and in aerospace.’

AMPA pilots recently voted to begin discussions with the SPEEA.

The two unions are scheduling a meeting to work out details of the transition.

The FSRs, who work with customers around the US, are collecting union authorisation cards in preparation for a National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) representation election.

As an existing union with a collective bargaining agreement in place, the AMPA’s contract will transfer to the SPEEA as a new bargaining unit.

The 32 pilots have watched their ranks shrink as some pilots moved to other Boeing jobs or retired.

But instead of hiring new full-time Boeing pilots, the company is currently hiring temporary (contract) pilots and training them at an undisclosed location.

AMPA President David Whitacre said the pilots recognise, and need, the growing influence of the SPEEA.

‘It’s time we become part of a larger, more powerful, organisation,’ Whitacre said.

‘As pilots delivering Boeing aircraft and providing instruction to customer pilots in their new multi-million dollar airplane, we are the last Boeing person customer pilots see after taking delivery.

‘If we don’t do our job right, future Boeing orders could be put in jeopardy.

‘Outsourcing has proved to be a risky strategy, so it’s surprising the company is willing to risk its reputation to hire contract pilots.

‘It’s contrary to Boeing’s stated goal of providing world-class training to our customers,’ Whitacre remarked.

About 100 Field Service Representatives are at various locations around the United States.

As Boeing representatives with customers, they provide expert advice and assistance for fleet service, maintenance and repairs.

‘We have fallen too far behind,’ said Rich Kozel, Field Service Rep in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

‘I love my job and I believe that FSRs need to join SPEEA, because we deserve the same respect and guaranteed long-term benefits that union members have.’

The SPEEA is regularly approached by employees throughout the aerospace industry who are looking for union representation, said Ray Goforth, SPEEA executive director.

‘After completing our vetting process, it was clear to everyone that both the AMPA pilots and FSRs are a natural fit for SPEEA,’ Goforth said.

A local (branch) of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), the SPEEA represents more than 24,400 aerospace professionals at Boeing, Spirit AeroSystems in Kansas, Triumph Composite Systems Inc, in Spokane, Washington, and BAE Systems Inc, in Irving, Texas.