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Teamsters seek to represent US Airways, American Airlines mechanics

A union fight is brewing at US Airways: The International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced Tuesday in Charlotte that they are seeking to take over representation of the company’s mechanics from their current union.

The Teamsters filed Tuesday with the federal National Mediation Board, requesting an election to decide whether to replace the current union, the International Association of Machinists. Teamsters are also organizing a drive to replace the Transport Workers Union at American Airlines to represent mechanics there.

The unrest comes at a critical time for Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways. The company is working on completing a merger with American Airlines, and integrating their combined 110,000 workers will be a major challenge for the company.

“The Teamsters union is the logical choice,” said Jim Blanton, a Charlotte-based US Airways mechanic. He stood with about 18 other US Airways mechanics dressed in black Teamsters T-shirts in a conference room at the Hilton hotel near Tyvola Road and Interstate 77 Tuesday.

Blanton said the Teamsters have signatures from 2,800 of the 4,500 US Airways mechanics represented by the IAM requesting the election. They said they believe the Teamsters are a stronger union and will help them negotiate a better contract after the merger.

Blanton also said US Airways has prevented Teamsters from trying to organize US Airways mechanics, and he asked that the company allow them to do so in their off-duty time.

A US Airways spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the issue is an internal union matter.

The Teamsters’ move brought sharp rebukes from unions representing mechanics at US Airways and American, who characterized the Teamsters’ move as a raid by a rival union to steal membership.

Current union lashes out at ‘thugs’

The IAM has called the Teamster drive a “campaign of lies and misrepresentations” and called the Teamsters “corrupt” and “thugs.”

The TWU claims the Teamsters have forged union authorization cards in its members’ names, which the Teamsters denied.

“The IBT is acting like a parasite,” said TWU Air Transport Division director Garry Drummond in a statement. He said he was “outraged and disgusted” by the Teamsters.

US Airways is currently negotiating a contract with its IAM members, and the parties haven’t been able to agree on terms.

The Teamsters fight has already raised tensions at US Airways facilities in Charlotte. Last month, mechanic and Teamsters organizer Thomas Caravaglia sued US Airways in federal court in Charlotte, after he claimed he was wrongfully fired.

Caravaglia said he was fired last fall after trying to organize US Airways mechanics during off-duty time at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. In the lawsuit, he said an IAM shop steward verbally assaulted him over his Teamsters organizing activities.

Caravaglia was subsequently fired, the lawsuit said, after being accused of threatening the IAM shop steward.

Caravaglia said the firing was actually retaliation for his Teamsters activities, however. The lawsuit is pending.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter @ESPortillo
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