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Orchestrating the Historic Organizing Win at United

Thu. March 08, 2012

It was a combination of grassroots organizing, legal prowess and sophisticated communication tactics that produced this week’s organizing victory for nearly 17,000 Passenger Service and Reservation Employees at the new United Airlines.

The election increases IAM membership in all classifications at United to 31,500 and marks the third consecutive airline organizing victory for the IAM Transportation Department. In addition to this week’s victory, previous wins among United Ramp & Stores (14,785) and ExpressJet Flight Attendants (2,200) brings the number of IAM members organized during the past eight months to nearly 34,000.

“We are extremely fortunate to have working in the IAM today some of the most dedicated and innovative organizers in the entire labor movement,” said Transportation GVP Sito Pantoja. “That includes staff and volunteers at the local, district and headquarters level. My sincere thanks go out to everyone who made these wins possible.”

The most recent IAM campaign at United took place in the shadow of an aggressive effort by right-wing politicians to restrict workers’ voting rights under the National Mediation Board (NMB), which governs representation elections for airline and railroad workers.

The Machinists campaign at United also had to overcome a legal effort by United to remove more than 1,000 union supporters from the voter eligibility list. Within days of the initial ruling to remove the employees, the IAM Legal Department filed a comprehensive appeal that successfully reversed the ruling and restored full voting rights to all eligible employees.

In addition to the campaign’s legal and legislative components, was the sustained and sophisticated effort at the District and Local level to measure support for the IAM among eligible voters. With thousands of potential voters in hundreds of airport and reservations locations across the country, the job of accurately measuring support was as important as it was challenging.

The task of reaching every eligible voter extended far beyond the workplace, with more than 2,000 eligible voters on furlough status at the start of the campaign. Tailored mailings and person-to-person outreach reminded furloughed United employees that not only were they eligible to vote, but that their contractually guaranteed lifetime recall rights depended on it.

“This win would not have been possible without the unequivocal support from International President Buffenbarger and the entire IAM Executive Council,” said Pantoja. “Their willingness to commit significant resources was a testament not only to the importance of this particular election but to the value we all place on growing this great union.”

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