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.