Northwest Flight Attendants May Change Unions

Some flight attendants are campaigning to leave the 2-year-old independent Professional Flight Attendants Association and join the Association of Flight Attendants, a decades-old union whose members and connections span the airline business.

"The question is: Are bigger unions, better unions?" said Gary Chaison, professor of management at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

In 2003, the answer was no for flight attendants who chose the independent PFAA over the Teamsters.

"We switched to PFAA so we could have autonomy," said John Frame, a 42-year-old flight attendant from Livonia. "You don't midstream decide to throw out everything you've worked for with one organization that has only had 24 months on the property."

But James Gray, a 26-year-old flight attendant from Ferndale, wants to be a part of a larger union after watching the fiercely independent Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association garner little union support during its strike.

Gray said that's when he realized: "Wait, this could really happen to me. There's no one watching out for us."

Organizing drives typically take months, so the AFA may have to be especially quick.

To switch unions, the AFA would need to give signed cards from more than half of the PFAA's members to the National Mediation Board, which would conduct a vote.

Corey Caldwell, spokeswoman for the AFA, wouldn't say how many Northwest flight attendants have turned in cards calling for a vote. But she said the response is overwhelming.

The group must also meet the timetable of the airline and the bankruptcy court. Both have indicated they want to waste no time to restructure the airline.

In the end, it might not matter which union represents the flight attendants.

"The environment is just so negative that it's not really clear that just finding a different union is going to be enough to overwhelm the price of fuel, bankruptcy and the ability to replace striking workers," said management professor Budd.

Detroit Free Press

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