Why Representation Matters in Good Times and Bad

An Interview with Ricardo Partida, American Airlines, Title II Facilities, DFW, TWU Local 513 Member

Q: What was your first thought when American Airlines declared bankruptcy in 2011?
A: I was glad to be a union employee. Bankruptcy laws meant the company would still have to negotiate new terms with represented employees. Tough decisions would be made, but we still had a say and a vote on any new terms. The company couldn’t just impose terms on us, unlike agents and other non-union employees.

Q: What was different for you compared to the agents during the bankruptcy process?
A: TWU immediately hired lawyers with bankruptcy to protect our interests. Management filed the terms that they wanted with the judge and we began bargaining. They court doesn’t just “rubber stamp” what the company wanted, the unions and company had to work out terms agreeable to both parties.

Q: Was there a big difference with what the company originally asked for and what the union negotiated?
A: Huge! The company wanted to cut our jobs and outsource almost half of TWU represented employees, we negotiated a voluntary buy out. The company wanted to outsource all cargo work, we kept that work in all the hubs. The company wanted to outsource all facility maintenance, we kept 50% of that work, including my job. Over 3,200 jobs were saved compared to what the company asked the courts for. We even negotiated a 4.8% equity stake in the company after bankruptcy and we’re already seeing profits.

Ricardo Partida, TWU portrait

Q: Did you take hourly pay cuts?
A: No, we actually negotiated yearly structured pay raises through 2015 and an additional 4.3% pay raise. Profit sharing, which we haven’t had since 2000, will average $625 per employee at a $1 billion profit. The 4.3% increase would add about $2500 for the average TWU represented employee. Then our structured raises will be based off our new salary.

Q: What about the MOU with US Airways?
A: Our union met with US Airways management before we voted on our contract. Both parties agreed to work together on issues to speed up the process once a merger is announced. We protected what we could in case of no merger and negotiated some terms with US Airways in advance of a merger. Work at over 25 stations that were outsourced will be brought back in-house once the merger is completed. The agents, for example, have NO protections or a right to negotiate over the outsourcing imposed on them.

Q: What happens after the merger?
A: The unions have agreed to move forward as quickly as possible with single carrier integration. Once this starts, we will work with the new American and start negotiating a new single contract that covers employees at both carriers. In the meantime, we will work with the protections and contract we negotiated during bankruptcy. The new airline will have to negotiate with union represented employees and come up with a single contract before becoming fully integrated single carrier.

Q: How do you feel about being union at this point?
A: I would never give up my right to negotiate in good or bad times. If I were in the agents’ shoes now, having been a union member, I wouldn’t have to think twice about voting for representation. It was hard to watch how close the agents came to having representation before the bankruptcy concessions were done, and they still have no protection or rights to negotiate future changes. We were able to negotiate to save our members jobs.

Q: Do you have any last minute advice for the agents?
A: I sure do. It is never too late. With union representation you too will have the right to negotiate and vote on any changes in good times or bad times.