US Airways, American flight attendants work for joint contract

US Airways and American Airlines flight attendants are on the fast track to what they hope will be their first joint contract, the president of the union that will represent both groups said Monday.

Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, made her first official visit to Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Monday. She’s meeting US Airways flight attendants – who have been represented by the separate Association of Flight Attendants – at major crew bases such as Charlotte and Philadelphia.

Glading was a strong advocate for the merger of US Airways and American, which closed last year. She endured a brief struggle last year over which union should represent workers at the combined company but said she’s now focused on the new contract for all 24,000 flight attendants.

“Flight attendants did not need any more upsetting. They didn’t want a representation election, they didn’t want another fight,” Glading said. “They wanted life to get better. ... A representation election would have just been a nightmare.”

Her counterpart, and former rival, said the unions have repaired their ties.

“On the whole, it’s going well,” said Roger Holmin, president of the AFA’s master executive council. He had previously opposed Glading, but on Monday, he was helping to show her around Charlotte Douglas and introducing her to crew members.

The union’s bargaining committee for the contract negotiations is made up of equal numbers of US Airways and American flight attendants. They submitted their opening proposal to the company April 24 and have their first meeting with management scheduled next week.

Glading declined to say what was in the union’s opening offer since it will most likely change before a final agreement is reached. They’re on an expedited schedule, with 150 days total planned for negotiations. After that, if they can’t reach an agreement and ratify it with their membership, the company and the union will move to binding arbitration to settle their differences.

“I would like very much to get to a consensual deal,” Glading said. “I just don’t like anything that causes a lot of conflict, especially at a time when we’re trying so hard to work together.”

About 2,200 flight attendants are based in Charlotte. At stake in the negotiations are everything from pay to work rules, from seniority to a complex new system of assigning flight attendants’ work schedules.

Integrating its 120,000 employees – many of whom are in different unions, with different work rules and seniority – is one of the major challenges ahead for American. Last month, six unions representing US Airways employees sent American CEO Doug Parker a letter demanding they receive benefits from the merger more quickly.

Despite the challenges ahead, Glading said morale is higher than it’s been in more than a decade, after one of the most tumultuous periods in airline history. After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, every major U.S. airline except Southwest went through bankruptcy – US Airways twice – and eight carriers have merged to become four.

“I was scared to death,” Glading said of American’s November 2011 bankruptcy filing. When she was approached by US Airways executives about a possible merger, Glading said her hopes were lifted. She started working to build support for the deal.

“It made good sense to me,” she said. “There were times when I got really scared that Doug Parker and (US Airways President) Scott Kirby would change their minds. I would text them and say, ‘We still good?’ They would say, ‘Still good. You still in?’ I would say, ‘All in.’ ”