Union tries again at Continental; Fleet service organizing failed in 2005 and 2006

The Transport Workers Union of America is trying again to organize thousands of fleet service workers at Continental Airlines.

The organization filed union authorization cards Wednesday with the National Mediation board, James Little, president of the union, said.

Despite failed attempts in 2005 and 2006, union officials say they hope to get enough votes this year to represent almost 8,000 fleet service workers at Houston-based Continental. The group includes those who load bags, handle freight and de-ice planes.

About 3,000 of the workers are based in Houston. One of those, baggage handler Dale Callis, who is working with the union, said Wednesday workers want to get back money they gave up when the carrier asked for concessions from employees in 2005.

"Continental is making a profit now," said Callis, who has been with the carrier more than 10 years. "We would like to get our share."

Continental reports third-quarter earnings today and is expected to post a profit.

Continental spokeswoman Julie King said Wednesday the carrier was aware an application has been filed to represent its ramp workers.

"We have been though these union organization efforts many times," King said. "The TWU and other unions have been unsuccessful in their efforts to unionize our employees over the last 11 years."

Continental says it has a culture of treating employees with dignity and respect, and Little acknowledged the carrier is generally a worker-friendly company. But he said the renewed talk of mergers by some carriers has workers uneasy.

Continental employee Jerome Pelitera, who works in Austin and is working with the union, said many workers believe they need additional protection. Pelitera said if other workers at the carrier - such as pilots, flight attendants and mechanics - are protected by contracts, fleet service workers need one, too.

The union vote last year failed by roughly 300 votes.