Former TWA flight attendants picketed their own union Friday, protesting what they say is the labor group's unwillingness to help them get back their jobs, which were lost after the 2001 terror attacks.
Beginning next month, the first of about 2,900 former TWA flight attendants will lose their chance to be rehired at American Airlines. American Airlines' parent company, AMR Corp. of Forth Worth, bought Trans World Airlines when it was in bankruptcy months before 9/11 and absorbed TWA's staff.
The rehiring rights of the former TWA attendants expire five years after they were laid off, and it's been nearly that long since the first post-Sept. 11 layoffs.
The ex-TWA workers want to stay in the rehiring line, hoping that better conditions in the airline business could result in their rehiring. Getting their old jobs back could mean qualifying again for health insurance and a pension.
About 30 former TWA flight attendants protested outside the headquarters of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, or APFA, which represents about 13,000 workers at American Airlines. The demonstrators carried placards reading, "A real union protects all of its members."
Inside, a representative of the picketers met with the union's president, Tommie Hutto-Blake. Later, they were to meet with American Airlines officials.
The picketing highlighted the tension that has existed between the two groups since AMR Corp. absorbed TWA.
The TWA attendants had been represented by the International Association of Machinists, but when they became AMR employees, their new union put them at the bottom of American's seniority list. That made the TWA veterans - some with decades of experience - vulnerable to layoffs.
"We had no other union standing up for us," said former TWA attendant Jeanne Gibbons. "And if APFA can put you on the bottom, they do."
A class-action lawsuit over stripping seniority from the TWA employees is pending in federal court in New York.
Friday's picketers said they were focused now on preserving their right to a job if American calls back laid-off flight attendants.
They could be waiting in vain, however.
AMR lost $8.1 billion and shed 40,000 jobs from 2001 through 2005. And even though AMR made money in the April-June quarter, the most recent for which figures are available, American is still shrinking its U.S. capacity.
Mike Schwerm, who spent 24 years with TWA and was out of work for two years before catching on with JetBlue Airways, said American doesn't want the TWA workers because by contract they would get top wages, about $46 an hour, instead of starting pay of about $17 an hour.
"And APFA wants us off the property because they want to protect their membership," Schwerm said. "It's the first time a company and a union worked together to eliminate a specific group of employees."
The union says they have tried to help the laid-off TWA veterans.
Union spokeswoman Leslie Mayo said Hutto-Blake, the union president, has asked AMR Chief Executive Gerard Arpey to let the TWA workers stay on the rehire list, but to no avail.
Tim Smith, a spokesman for the airline, confirmed that American will only consider such a change when it negotiates a new 2008 contract with the flight attendants. He said the five-year limit on rehiring rights is common in the airline industry and based on the assumption that long-gone former employees don't want to return.
The ex-TWA workers say many of their colleagues are interested in rejoining American - some for pensions or health insurance, others for the company's generous travel benefits. They have elicited support from officials of the Teamsters and a rival union, the Association of Flight Attendants.
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