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?