Thursday, November 11, 2010

Who Will Defend You if Your Drug or Alcohol Test Comes Back "Positive"?

Imagine you're pulled for a random alcohol test just before a flight and, to your surprise, the technician says it is positive. Or imagine the laboratory reports your drug test as positive to the medical review officer (MRO), who now holds your fate in his hands. What do you do?

If you're an ALPA member, you'll have backup. Your union's infrastructure includes safeguards that give pilots in this situation confidential support and assistance, along with referrals to professional resources available in your community. In fact, with the specialized knowledge of ALPA's attorneys, the expertise of ALPA's Aeromedical Office, the pilot volunteers who serve on the Pilot Assistance Committee, and resources to hire outside experts where necessary; ALPA pilots enjoy a long history of successes on cases involving controversial drug and alcohol testing. Your union will not rest until your medical record receives proper validation. That expertise is just a phone call away for every pilot ALPA represents.


ALPA's attorneys bring expertise and familiarity to the issues related to drug and alcohol testing that is unrivaled by any other organization in the industry. Their efforts have helped improve the drug and alcohol testing standards that are applied to you, giving ALPA represented pilots a powerful opportunity to challenge false and improper testing.


* Exposed Gross Laboratory Testing Misconduct: ALPA vindicated a wrongfully terminated Delta pilot, whose FAA certificates were revoked when the testing laboratory (LabOne) reported his urine sample had creatinine and specific gravity readings at the levels of water, and claimed that he "substituted" his sample. Despite this pilot's 20-year unblemished record and assertion of his innocence, neither the airline nor the FAA gave his claims any credence. ALPA appealed the enforcement action and grieved his firing.
* With the help of an expert forensic toxicologist, ALPA counsel investigated LabOne. Your lawyers procured boxes of laboratory records and exposed the laboratory's bad testing practices, costing the laboratory director his job. These ALPA efforts, on behalf of the pilot, exposed pervasive and gross laboratory misconduct, including: (1) use of malfunctioning equipment, (2) backdating documents, (3) destroying evidence, (4) using deteriorating controls that caused inaccurate results, (5) failing to comply with applicable standards, and (6) lying under oath by the laboratory director.
* ALPA succeeded in getting the pilot reinstated with all back pay and benefits, fully clearing his record with the FAA. Several previously fired Delta flight attendants were also cleared and reinstated.
* Ensured that Nationally Certified Laboratories Meet Regulatory Guidelines: As a result of ALPA's detection of laboratory errors and misconduct in handling validity tests, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ordered an emergency inspection of the national laboratories certified to conduct regulated testing. In that inspection, 40 or more of the 66 laboratories were found in noncompliance with the federal guidelines covering testing procedures. As a result, 300 test results previ- ously reported as "substituted" were ordered canceled by the government.
* Advocated Your Interests in Validity Testing Standards: ALPA sought and achieved stricter regulations governing validity testing and succeeded in getting the criteria for samples reported as "substituted" to be more favorable to employees. In response to rules proposed by DOT in 2000, ALPA submitted extensive comments critiquing the procedures for validity testing, including the cutoff levels for deeming a sample to be "substituted." ALPA vigorously contended that DOT's creatinine cutoff level was not low enough and risked branding innocent individuals who produce ultra-dilute urine as rule violators.
* DOT ultimately accepted ALPA's contentions, acknowledged that individuals produce urine below its creatinine cutoff without any wrongdoing on their part, and in May 2003 lowered the applicable threshold. DOT recently published a notice to employers establishing a "reconsideration" procedure for employees adversely affected before the rule change.
* Protected Pilots' Private Medical Records: ALPA helped a pilot avert an attempt by the government to order his private medical records released under threat of criminal prosecution. The Ll.S. Attorney filed a complaint against the residential treatment facility in which this pilot had received treatment, seeking the release of "John Doe" records by arguing that because this patient with an alcohol abuse problem is an airline pilot, he posed an immediate threat to airline safety, necessitating the release of his otherwise confidential medical records.
* Burning the midnight oil on the eve before the hearing, ALPA counsel worked with the Aeromedical Office and prepared evidence to defeat the government's actions. Once this evidence was given to the FAA, the FAA recognized that the pilot was taking appropriate steps and that the action sought by the U.s. Attorney was un- founded. ALPA's efforts succeeded in having the case dismissed.
* Reversed "Positive" Drug Tests, Keeping Healthy Pilots on the Line: ALPA's untiring efforts led to the reversal of a senior pilot's "positive" drug test. With the imminent demise of Independent Air, one proactive pilot applied for work at Gemini Air Cargo and was shocked to learn that her pre-employment drug test carne back positive for codeine. She quickly realized that the results were due to an over-the-counter cold medicine she had purchased legally in London and used prior to the interview. She promptly provided all of the relevant documentation to the medical review officer. The MRO refused to change the result despite the clear regulatory authority to do so.
* ALPA Legal pursued this matter, first with the FAA and then with the director of DOT's Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance. After months of unrelenting effort, ALPA finally procured a report from DOT stating that the MRO's actions were not founded, that maintaining the test as a positive would work an injustice on the employee, and that the positive result should be canceled and any records of the test expunged by the FAA and employer. This report and DOT's subsequent inter- vention caused the drug test to be canceled and the pilot's record cleared.
* In an interview with Air Line Pilot magazine (February 2007), the pilot, Margaret "Rosalind" Heinemann, stated: "There is no way I could have fought this on my own. All of ALPA's resources, including the ALPA Aeromedical Office and ALPA's Legal Department, were crucial to my being vindicated. The best part is that every second of help that I received over the year was included in my membership ben- efits as an ALPA member. The alternative would have been hiring a private attorney; and paying thousands of dollars-which I would never have been able to do. If it hadn't been for ALPA, I wouldn't have been able to get a job. For ALPA's assistance in saving my career, I am eternally grateful."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Who Will Help You After an Aircraft Accident or Incident?

You may think you will never be in an aircraft accident or need to use ALPA's services, but accidents, incidents, and other time-critical safety and security events do happen. As an ALPA member, you will benefit from a full-court press of trained pilot volunteers and professionals-generated on zero notice-coming to your rescue, fully briefed in every aspect of airline operations. They protect your reputation (and your family's), your job, and your livelihood and forge effective changes in the industry to improve your safety. ALPA has that. DPA can't match it.


An ALPA team with an arsenal of resources provides immediate and ongoing support for you in the event of an aircraft accident. From answering your initial call and navigating you through the complex investigation process to defending your actions with the company and government agencies and shielding you and your family from the news media, ALPA protects your reputation, your job, and your career while simultaneously improving your workplace by addressing the root causes of the accident in the overall aviation system.

ALPA-Provided Services

* ALPA's safety specialists and engineers cover every aspect of the accident investigation while supporting you and your pilot group through the entire process. This backing includes the 24-hour Accident Hotline; on-site accident assistance; conducting field- work, tests, and accident data analysis using sophisticated technical equipment; and building a persuasive argument to support your interests with the NTSB and the FAA.
* ALPA's communication and media specialists disseminate ALPA's advocacy for upgrades to the aviation system based on the accident's causal factors, improving your safety and security in the workplace. They also counter any misinformation that finds its way to the news media.
* ALPA's attorneys provide immediate and ongoing representation when your career and reputation are at stake. Their expertise and experience make them uniquely qualified to represent you when your certificate is on the line.

Friday, October 8, 2010

O. V. Delle-Femine Reassures Airline Strikers

This blog says it best.

Who is O. V. Delle-Femine?

I mean, who is this guy? He set up the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association for the sole purpose of raiding other unions. The press has not asked him, as far as I can tell:

* To explain his relationship with a management firm, McCormick Advisory Group, headquartered in Laconia, NH, and with a law firm, Seham Seham Meltz & Peterson, based in Westchester County, NY, which has a long history of representing management in the airline industry.

* to explain how The McCormick Group also founded the Professional Flight Attendants Association (PPFA), which successfully raided an AFL-CIO union at Northwest Airlines.

* To disclose what the Seham law firm gets from AMFA and whether he knows that the Seham firm has long represented airline managements in opposing workers and their unions. According to a source inside the labor movement, Martin Seham and/or Lee Seham have represented Varig Brazilian Airlines on a continuing basis; the Sperry Gyroscope Company against the Engineers Association; Pan American Airways against the Seafarers International Union of North America; Vantage Steamship Corporation against the National Maritime Union of America; Maritime Overseas Corporation against the Masters, Mates and Pilots and the International Longshoreman’s Association; and Jackson Engineering Company against the Marine and Shipbuilders Workers. And The Seham firm also has represented El Al Israeli Airlines, Air Lingus, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, TWA. Mt. Vernon Tanker Company, Seatrain Lines, Inc., Delta Steamship Lines, Zapata Bulk Transportation, Inc., Wabash Transport, the Maritime Association, Airfreight Express Limited, A. Millner Company and the Owners Committee on Electric Rates.

None of this inquiry suggests that I still don't worry about the workers who are getting royally screwed. It's clear Northwest management feels pretty cocky--it hasn't asked for the Bush Administration to intervene in the strike and is already talking about permanently replacing the workers.

Those of you who remember the AMFA strike may also remember this New York Times Article

Why should the AMFA strike bother you now?

The constant divide and conquer method Seham uses to make "independent" unions makes them then ripe for being broken by management. Union Raider or Union Maker?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The relationship between DPA's law firm and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA)

Since becoming independent USAPA has said that you can rely on its lawyers' opinion that, as "professional negotiators," they can persuade the company to renegotiate the seniority list without paying the high economic price that will be demanded by management in return---even if management were to agree to such a proposal Can you rely on these promises?

Since being fired by the APA, the firm's major labor client has been the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA)-an organization that, in contrast to DPA, is founded on the principle that all members of its craft in the industry should belong to one union, rather than carrier-by-carrier organizations. The firm counsels that unaffiliated union in all negotiations and promotes its objectives.

When AMFA began representing NWA mechanics and related employees in 1999, there were over 9,500 active employees in that group. Job security and layoff/outsourcing protections were the biggest concerns of the employee group.

Just a short time later, AMFA, with Seham's assistance, negotiated a new agreement, which it claimed contained the best job security and outsourcing language in the industry. In exchange for supposedly airtight language, AMFA agreed to save the airline money by restricting the seniority rights of its members during displacements.

The new language has been a fiasco. The negotiated "cap" actually allowed NWA to outsource a greater percentage of work than it ever had before, and NWA intensified its outsourcing throughout the entire period the contract was in effect. By 2005, most heavy- aircraft checks had been outsourced to nonunion overseas or domestic bases. Five years after AMFA and Seham took over representation, the NWA mechanic and related workforce had been reduced from approximately 9,500 active workers to 4,000.

The story, however, gets worse. In July 2005, after several months of bargaining with NWA, AMFA-acting on Seham's advice-demanded to be released to strike, even though management was itself seeking a release from mediation that would give the Company the right to engage in self-help, and it expected mechanics to strike. The NMB did release the parties, and a strike was called by the union.

The strike was a catastrophe for AMFA and the mechanics. Since the company had already rid itself of more than half of its mechanic workforce, the company needed to replace few workers in order to operate through the strike. It took AMFA more than a year to reach a back-to-work agreement.

That agreement did not allow strikers to return to work until vacancies opened up. It imposed far worse concessions than had been proposed by management before the strike, limited employee recall rights, and stripped the agency shop clause from the contract.

All of the company's heavy maintenance is now outsourced. There are now fewer than 1,000 aircraft mechanics at NWA, and no cleaners or plant maintenance mechanics at all. Few of the mechanics pay union dues to AMFA, and a large number of them are seeking alternative representation.

Seham also helped create another independent "union" at NWA called the Professional Flight Attendants Association (PFAA), which decertified the Teamsters a short time later. In 2006, PFAA fired the Seham firm and replaced it with different counsel, just as American pilots had earlier. Several months later, NWA flight attendants voted to replace the independent PFAA with the Association of Flight Attendants, a national flight attendant union affiliated with the AFL-CIO. They concluded that they could not effectively fight management with a poorly resourced independent union.

Do you believe and can you rely on DPA and Seham promises on bargaining and litigation? It's time to look carefully at its claims and review facts about what its law firm has accomplished as lawyers and negotiators - not for its many management clients, but as labor representatives. The record of Seham-represented independent unions is not consistent with DPA's grand claims and wishful promises. The facts do not paint a positive picture.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

DPA Legal Representation

On its non-existent Legal Representation web page, DPA would tell you:

"We have selected the law firm of Seham, Seham, Meltz and Petersen to represent us. This is the same firm that represented the American pilots in their successful bid to break away from ALPA and form their own independent union, the APA."

The web page would also list the resume of Lee Seham, the lead attorney for DPA, and his deceased father, Martin Seham, to further establish the firm's credibility.

While it is true that Martin "Marty" Seham represented the American pilots when they established the Allied Pilots Association (APA) back in 1963, and Lee Seham later served as general counsel, neither the Sehams nor their firm has represented APA since Nov. 11, 1992. Quite the opposite: The Seham firm is now counsel to a group of pilots who, like DPA, are attempting to displace the APA as the collective bargaining representative of their carrier's pilots.

Over 15 years ago, then APA President Richard LaVoy sent a letter to his membership detailing the many factors that went into replacing the Seham firm as general counsel.

In that letter, LaVoy wrote:

"Most importantly, I have a moral, philosophical and practical disagreement in the manner in which the Seham firm has chosen to conduct it's [its] law practice. From my point of view, it is unwise and not in the best interest of APA's pilots to continue it's [its] relationship with a law firm that has amassed such a record."

The letter went on to say that the Seham firm usually represents management in disputes between employers and employees and has a long history of what can only be considered anti-union and anti-employee activities.

"It is just common sense that Ralph Nader will not work for General Motors and Frank Lorenzo will not work for unions," LaVoy wrote. "While management and pilots both want a strong, secure and prosperous company, they can differ on how those goals should be achieved."

As if that weren't enough, the letter went on to state:

"The lawyer's standard permitted Seham to represent management in proceedings which attempted to dismantle the union representing El Al's U.S. employees, and permitted him to represent SAS when it went to court to stop Eastern's unions from picketing the airline in an attempt to get SAS to stop sending tens of millions in aid to Frank Lorenzo during the strike. At the same time our General Counsel was assisting Lorenzo's financial backers, APA's pilots were contributing over $200,000 to Eastern's pilots to help stave off Lorenzo. These are not hypothetical examples, but actual cases where Seham represented management against unionized employees!"

In an attachment that supports his letter, APA described in further detail how Seham represented both management and scabs in numerous legal proceedings in the federal courts and in administrative proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board and the National Mediation Board.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sleeping with the Enemy

DPA's legal team of Seham Seham Meltz & Petersen (SSM&P) not only skims over the fact that the law firm's former principal union client (Allied Pilots Association) terminated its services for cause and "with prejudice," it also proudly lists a number of airline clients in cases where SSM&P acted in the interests of management against its workers.

Case Study #1: EI AI Israel Airlines
Martin Seham sat on management's side of the table in 1983 when he served as EI AI Israel Airlines chief negotiator during a dispute with the company's U.S. ground workers, repre- sented by the International Association of Machinists (IAM). After a year of unproductive bargaining, the lAM began what became a bitter 28-month strike. During the strike, some of the clerical workers decertified IAM in favor of an independent union. Management imposed severely concessionary terms and recruited scabs as replacement workers!

Typically, management welcomes "divide and conquer" developments like this and does whatever it can to create, facilitate, and exploit such opportunities. Labor law firms advising management typically play very significant roles in developing these anti-union strategies. It is an undeniable fact that it occurred on SSM&P's watch, and it occurred after that firm played a leading role in helping management to divide the rank-and-file and then crush its workers and the lAM at EI AI.

Case Study #2: Varig
Varig Brazilian Airlines' management retained Martin Seham during a dispute with its work- ers, who were also represented by the IAM during the early 1990s. This negotiation resulted in another strike. During these negotiations, management-with Seham as its advisor- insisted on removing all restrictions on its right to subcontract work and to remove the union security clause.

In fact, on Dec. 24, 1993, Varig's management posted strike-busting instructions for all of its employees to see. The Notice to Varig Employees read:

Some of our employees have asked whether the union can legally retaliate against them for crossing a picket line. By copy of this letter to the union, we are advising that organi- zation [lAM] of the implementation of our proposal to eliminate ARTICLE XVIII-UNION SECURITY. Among other things, it deletes any membership obligation by force of the labor contract.

If you want to terminate any further union obligation, you may also want to send a
letter of resignation. Such a letter may be very brief and simply state that: "I, (name), do hereby resign from membership in the International Association of Machinists and any of its lodges and divisions or affiliates, effective immediately."

The decision to take any of these steps is entirely up to you and will not be the basis of any form of retribution by the Company against you.

Note the phrasing above. It was undoubtedly written by the lawyers advising management. The IAM understood that the notice was specifically designed to intimidate and coerce union members to resign their membership with the organization. "The implication of what will happen if you decide not to take any of the company's suggested steps was clear," said Robert Roach of the IAM.
Why Should You Care?

DPA's law firm has always done substantial work for management clients. It sometimes represents union clients. While it's not illegal to represent both management and labor, it is extremely rare, and it raises a number of serious questions for US Airways pilots.

First, unions typically refuse to finance the operations of a firm that spends part of its re- sources taking action against other unions and creating anti-union precedents that lower labor standards. Do you want to contribute to this work? Second, do you trust a management- oriented firm to argue and vigorously represent employee interests?

For employees, job loss has always been connected to SSM&P's advice. Not only did this happen at El AI and Varig, where it represented management, it also happened at Northwest, United, and other carriers, where it represented labor. The Chicago Tribune recently published an article on the topic.

"A Teamsters union bid to win over 5,000 mechanics from a smaller union [the Aircraft Me- chanics Fraternal Association] could play into United Airlines' hands," the article said. "Nearly half of United's 10,200 eligible voters were laid off years ago, and if neither the Teamsters nor AMFA win over 50 percent of the vote, that could leave the historically maverick group at United without any say in a merger."

The article went on to discuss AMFA in general, which USAPA's law firm has represented for years.

"AMFA has shrunk from nearly 20,000 members several years [ago] to about 11,000 members at seven airlines. One of the union's biggest challenges is overcoming the defeat it suffered two years ago at the end of a 14-month strike at Northwest Airlines. From 4,400 members before the strike, its ranks dwindled to several hundred members, said Steve McFarlane, AMFA's national director."

DPA's counsel has represented an assortment of independent unions, including the APA (American pilots), the IACP (Continental pilots), the PFAA (NWA flight attendants), and AMFA. The APA terminated Seham, the IACP decided to join ALPA, and the PFAA joined the Association of Flight Attendants (a national union affiliated with the CWA and the AFL-CIO). AMFA, an independent union represented by Seham, is responsible for some of the most enormous job losses in the industry. This is not a record of accomplishment. Is there anything in this record that justifies your confidence?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Varig Airlines

Seham Seham Meltz & Petersen (SSM&P) has represented VARIG Airlines management in litigation brought by the International Association of Machinists (lAM) to force the company to pay its lAM-represented employees the amounts owed under the collective bargaining agreement.

In June 2005 VARIG Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection in Brazil. The next month it entered into a new collective bargaining agreement with the lAM that provided the employees with severance pay, accrued vacation, and other compensation in the event of a layoff. In December 2006 VARIG permanently furloughed the 16 remaining lAM-represented employees. VARIG, however, refused to pay these workers what was clearly required by the collective bargaining agreement. Some of these employees had worked for the carrier for more than 30 years!

In January 2007 the lAM sued VARIG in the U.S. District Court in New York. In August 2007 the District Court ruled for employees and told VARIG to comply with the CBA and pay $268,000 to its lAM employees. SSM&P and VARIG continue to try to keep employees from getting what they bargained for and what the court ordered. They have now appealed the District Court's ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which has yet to issue a decision.

This is but one more example in a long history. This firm has no problem representing and advocating for management and arguing against and harming employees and workers. SSM&P refuses to recognize that labor unions and the employees they represent are not simply litigants in a lawsuit but are workers trying to make a living and survive. Virtually all other labor lawyers understand this and uniformly choose to take cases that either advance the interests of employees or that impede the interests of working men and women. Simply put, SSM&P believes it is ethical to work both sides of the street.

Are these the kinds of people you want working for you? Do you want to support the firm's activities against other working men and women? Do you believe that this firm can really advance your agenda? Most important, do the decisions DPA has already made on professional help reflect the kind of judgment that will benefit you long-term?

You decide.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Law Firm Loses; Workers Pay the Price

Seham Hands Management the Club

In this installment - which explores DPA's law firm choice for legal advice and counsel - we will introduce you to the two court cases that Seham lost for its client, the AMFA membership at Atlantic Coast Airlines, and consequently lost for all newly represented airline labor unions.

The law firm that has assured USAPA supporters that overturning the Nicolau Award and negotiating a new seniority list will be a "slam-dunk" is the same firm whose loss of two important cases established a precedent that hamstrings every airline union attempting to organize an unrepresented craft or negotiate a first agreement with an airline.

Should pilots be confident that the attorneys counseling USAPA can adequately advise and defend them during negotiations, as a divided group faces an experienced management on their first USAPA contract? And how meaningful is their assurance that they will successfully defend USAPA and its members against the inevitable duty-of-fair-representation lawsuit that will be brought if USAPA imposes a new seniority list over the West pilots' objections?

Here's what happened when this firm represented the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), an independent union of airline technicians and related employees, after it organized the mechanics at Atlantic Coast Airlines (ACA) in 1994.

AMFA was certified as exclusive representative for ACA mechanics on March 11, 1994, and within weeks, the union, represented by USAPA's counsel, began contract negotiations with management. In August, AMFA declared an impasse and asked the National Mediation Board to appoint a mediator.

By October, a collective bargaining agreement had still not been reached, and no mediation sessions had been held. At that point, the airline announced unilateral changes in the mechanics' rates of pay, rules, and working conditions. Sick leave would no longer be factored into overtime pay, and the lead mechanic's position was replaced by a managerial position.

AMFA filed suit against ACA in U.S. District Court, asking for a preliminary injunction against making the changes. Several other airline unions previously had won cases preventing management from making unilateral changes in pay, rules, and working conditions during the negotiating period.

AMFA's complaint was dismissed. The court found that management had no status quo obligations untilit reached an agreement with AMFA, and it was free to impose concessions. The union then appealed the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the District Court's decision. This ruling established a terrible legal precedent that has allowed carriers free rein to impose unilateral changes on their employees prior to a first contract.

But that's not all. After losing the above argument, AMFA sued ACA again, this time seeking a declaratory judgment that, if the carrier was not obligated to honor the status quo before a first agreement, the union was free to engage in self-help-in other words, to call a strike. USAPA's counsel also lost that case-and the appeal. The Appeals Court ruled that the employees, in contrast to the employer, had a status quo obligation, and the court declared that

the right to strike does not arise in the absence of employer bad faith. Here, the Airline did what the law permitted it to do. . . . As we noted in AMFA I ..., the Union has not alleged that the Airline bargained in bad faith, and the Union has continued to refrain from making such allegations. Obviously there has been no court finding of bad faith. Accordingly, the Union cannot legally strike.

The upshot is that DPA's firm managed to create a "heads, I win; tails, you lose" situation for management when dealing with a newly organized union. This set of precedents has been used as a club by every carrier against union drives by allowing them to say they are free to impose concessions until the union achieves a first contract, and that the union cannot strike in response.

These precedents help the firm in the management portion of its practice: But there is now a string of AMFA decisions that has undermined every union in the industry.
In previous installments of this series, we have noted that SSM&P flip-flops between union and management in choosing its clients. In light of its history with AMFA, the question remains: Who does the Seham firm really work for - management or you? The answer is clear.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Raiders, Not Union Builders

If you make the decision to go with DPA, you should know that you're hiring Seham Seham Meltz & Petersen (SSM&P) as the chief advisors and legal team to run your union. SSM&P is good at one thing, and running a union isn't it.

SSM&P specializes in raiding unions when the membership is emotional over a contract, an arbitration award, or a bankruptcy. They'll tell the group whatever they need to hear in order to win them over. For the East pilots, it's how they'll change the Nicolau award. For the West pilots ... well, let's just say Seham couldn't stand the heat of the desert and didn't have anything to tell them other than to complain about being recorded and to distort what he had previously said.
In this respect, Seham denied in PHX that he ever said anything about making a "cost neutral" agreement with the Company. However, the tape of the PHL meeting shows that Seham told the group that one of the first agreements USAPA would make with the Company would be to reorder the seniority list, a deal the Company would be happy to make because it would be "cost neutral."

Aside from the lie about having used the term, the claim shows incredible naivete. No company ever views a major accommodation to a union as "cost neutral"- particularly one that will inevitably lead to litigation. Anyone who believes that the Company will perform this "cost neutral" favor for free, particularly in the present environment, is obviously not connected to reality. And, to make matters worse, USAPA made it clear in PHX that it did not have a "Plan B" in the event the Company either was unwilling to make Seharn's "cost neutral" accommodation or insisted on a contractual concession in exchange.

The lack of candor exhibited in PHX is typical of a group of advisors who are skilled at attacking unions but have established a miserable record when it comes to representing them. They claim to be professional negotiators, but not a single member of the firm has ever negotiated a pilot agreement. They claim to be union lawyers, but under their counsel, various airline managements have hired scabs, threatened union workers, and sought to deprive them of hard-earned wages and benefits in bankruptcy.

SSM&P helped bring the B-scale into the industry and, while representing unions, lost cases that gravely undermined your right to strike and negotiate. They have been fired by the APA and the PFAA, and over the past five years, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), their primary labor client, has been reduced from 17,000 to approximately 3,000 dues-paying members. Simply put, SSM&P's record in no way supports its claim to your trust.

The mechanics of United Airlines voted overwhelmingly to oust AMFA on March 31, 2008. Should the pilots of US Airways step up to restore this loss of revenue for the Seham firm? Or should you reflect on why it is that yet another group of workers has concluded it is important to be part of the labor movement and left Seham and his clients behind?

Will you be the next group of employees who quickly come to the realization that Seham - style company unionism doesn't work?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The AMFA Mistake

For more than 50 years, airline workers enjoyed a level of solidarity and support unmatched in the labor movement. Pilots, Flight Attendants and Ground Workers all shared the same goals: better wages, benefits and working conditions. We also had a common enemy – airline management.

Management spent decades trying to shake our solidarity, but was never successful. Although at times we had our differences, we were able to work them out and our solidarity produced positive results. Our solidarity could not be broken.

Consequently, airline employees received pay, pensions and benefits far greater than workers in other industries, both union and non-union.

In 1998, however, that solidarity was fractured. Lured by lies and fed by greed, some licensed aircraft mechanics decided to break away from all other airline workers.

First at Alaska Airlines and then Northwest Airlines, brother turned against brother, and what management couldn’t do, airline workers did to themselves. We went from a single group of Ground Workers to divisions by classification. The results have been disastrous.

The Raid

In the midst of IAM negotiations with Northwest Airlines in 1998, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) preached that licensed aircraft mechanics were elite professionals who would fare better if they negotiated on their own, without relying on “unskilled” workers. Their propaganda struck a chord with two groups – elitist Mechanics and Northwest management.

During the ensuing representation election between the IAM and AMFA, Northwest Airlines was required to remain neutral. The airline’s management, however, permitted AMFA to distribute hate literature and intimidate voters on company property while expelling IAM Representatives, in violation of National Mediation Board (NMB) election rules.

Northwest knew that AMFA was providing an opportunity to divide their employees and were eager to help crack the wall of solidarity.

AMFA promised the mechanics’ skill would be their strength, not numbers, and offered unprecedented democracy in a mechanics-only union. The NMB, however, forced AMFA to also accept unlicensed Mechanics, Cleaners and Custodians as part of the Mechanic & Related classification.

In reality, the democracy AMFA promised was a myth promoted by its founder and only National Director in the organization’s 40-year history, Olivio Vincenzo Delle-Femine. The association is controlled from the offices of Kevin McCormick, a New Hampshire-based real estate manager who bankrolled the raid and anointed himself AMFA’s non-elected, non-removable National Administrator.

The Machinists Union warned Northwest’s Mechanics that by isolating themselves from the IAM and the rest of labor they would become easy targets for management. Unfortunately, they did not heed the IAM’s warnings and the NMB certified AMFA as the collective bargaining representative for Northwest’s 10,000 Mechanics, Cleaners and Custodians on June 1, 1999.

Northwest Airlines got the divided workforce it yearned for, and they developed a two-stage, multi-year plan to take advantage of their new found luck.

First Contract

Job security and scope provisions are the bedrock foundation of any collective bargaining agreement. The contract AMFA inherited from the IAM prevented Northwest from farming out any maintenance work if a single member was furloughed. Wages and benefits are worthless if there aren’t any workers to earn them.

When AMFA assumed representation of Northwest’s Mechanics, Cleaners and Custodians (MCC), their membership numbers totaled nearly 10,000 and no members were on furlough. That amount of workers was far too large to replace in the event of a strike. Reducing the number of MCC members was the first step in Northwest’s plan.

AMFA’s untrained negotiators had misplaced priorities, and the airline took advantage of their inexperience. Northwest offered the Mechanics substantial wage increases in exchange for eliminating the IAM’s strong scope language. AMFA’s leadership and members were blinded by the dollar signs and failed to realize that when they signed that first contract and allowed the airline to subcontract work while furloughing members, they sealed their own demise.

In spite of AMFA’s claims that it negotiated “iron-clad” job security language, Northwest immediately began the systematic dismantling of its Mechanic & Related workforce. Engine and airframe overhaul work and scheduled maintenance checks were subcontracted to firms around the globe. Line maintenance Mechanics were replaced with vendors.

Furloughs quickly followed the signing of AMFA’s first agreement with a major airline.

Thousands of Northwest Mechanics, Cleaners and Custodians lost their jobs due to a contract AMFA negotiated in early 2001, before the industry downturn caused by 9-11 and before the surge in fuel prices.

Even at carriers where AMFA did not represent anyone their presence was felt. The Northwest contract became the envy of airline management throughout the industry. Soon, other carriers were demanding the same outsourcing flexibility AMFA conceded to Northwest.

By the summer of 2005, the 10,000 members AMFA inherited from the IAM had dwindled to 4,000. It took four years, but the mechanics were isolated by choice, weakened by ignorance and vulnerable by design.

Inevitable Strike

From the signing of the 2001 Northwest-AMFA agreement, the airline began preparing for an AMFA strike. Not because it felt AMFA was militant, but because they were predictable. Just as Northwest fooled AMFA into eliminating job security during their first negotiations, they would now either force a worthless contract on them or bust the union completely.

AMFA’s membership had dwindled to the point they now could be replaced. Additionally, AMFA allowed Northwest to develop relationships with dozen’s of vendors who were prepared and eager to increase their workload.

Northwest watched AMFA back itself into a corner with its “no concessions” mantra and then made their own contract demands, knowing they would be unacceptable to AMFA’s leadership. Either the membership would ultimately accept them, or there would be a strike the airline was eager to accept.

The AMFA proposal to Northwest requires that the IAM membership pay more than double the amount of concessions requested by the company. AMFA's position is that they should sacrifice less at the expense of IAM members.

AMFA was made aware prior to the strike that their position could not be endorsed by the IAM. The IAM attempted to enter into dialogue with the AMFA leadership before the strike, but they did not respond to our inquiries.

On August 20, 2005, at 12:01 AM EDT, Northwest’s 4-year campaign to break the association representing its Mechanics, Cleaner and Custodians was complete.

AMFA declared a strike without allowing its membership to vote on or even see the company’s last, best and final offer. AMFA, the “democratic alternative” to legitimate labor unions, refused to provide its membership the details until after the strike began and they had been replaced. That decision was made by a select few that included a real estate manager and not trained labor negotiators.

Regardless of the strike’s ultimate outcome, the Northwest’s MCC will never be the same. AMFA’s policy of isolation and philosophy of “strength in skill, not numbers” ensured their failure.

Lessons Learned

BusinessWeek once said, “Kevin McCormick has to be the oddest choice to run a labor union.” Not content with the elimination of Northwest’s Mechanics, Cleaners and Custodians, the mastermind behind their destruction continues his efforts to fragment airline workers and break solidarity, all for his personal gain. Firmly grasping an $800,000 a year contract with AMFA, he is not going to let the financial ruin of 10,000 families stop him.

From behind the desk of his New Hampshire real estate office, Kevin McCormick ensured that United Airlines’ Mechanics sacrificed more in their self-imposed isolation than any other employee group at the bankrupt carrier. He negotiated away job security language and permitted United to send aircraft maintenance work overseas, something the previous IAM contract prohibited.

Clearly, United has a strategy to deal with AMFA that is similar to Northwest’s.

McCormick is also pulling the strings of an AMFA-modeled group courting Continental Airlines Flight Attendants. That campaign began with the theft of the IAM's confidential, personal information of Flight Attendants and found its proponents facing a lawsuit for violations of federal and state statutes.

The same lies and promises McCormick made to Northwest Mechanics in 1998 have been resurrected at Continental. But the only winners in a McCormick-led election are airline management and McCormick himself.

The IAM warned Northwest’s Mechanics, but they were seduced by unrealistic promises and thousands of workers and their families have paid a dear price. History has shown, and recent events have confirmed, that the only way to combat airline management is through solidarity and ample resources, which is something independent unions cannot provide. With no support, no political contacts and no resources, AMFA had no weapons to use in their fight with Northwest.

The Machinists Union has our own two-stage, multi-year plan to restore the solidarity so many are working to destroy.

First, the IAM membership must reject all attempts to divide us, whether they come from management or independent unions. Anyone who tries to break our solidarity reduces our strength and does not have workers’ best interests in mind.

Second, we must renew and increase our commitment to organize all unorganized workers at airlines and airline service companies. Workers need strength to survive, and solidarity among all airline workers provides that strength.

AMFA has proven that isolation from the AFL-CIO and its member unions is fatal.
Anyone who doesn’t learn from the mistakes of Northwest’s Mechanics is doomed to the same fate.