Building a Strong Air Transport Membership From The Ground Up

This article was featured in the IAM Summer 2024 Journal and written by IAM Communications Representative John Carr. 

Building bargaining power is critical to negotiating a strong IAM contract. One of the ways the Air Transport Territory team is doing that is by being out on the shop floor and accessible to the membership.

“I think it’s important for our members to see our faces, know who we are, and know that we come from the rank and file, that we aren’t just someone they read about on the website, we come from the ground, worked our way up, and are fighting on their behalf,” said IAM Air Transport Territory General Vice President Richie Johnsen. “A strong, active union in the workplace where workers pull together to make a real difference is the only way we can improve the lives of IAM members.”

The idea is to foster open communication, encourage members to communicate openly, and share ideas, concerns, and feedback. Establish a culture where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves and all opinions are valued.

It goes further than that. Since June 2021, Air Transport Territory leadership has traveled to visit dozens of cities each year to meet with the membership face to face, creating an informal network of workers who are committed to mutual aid, direct action, and building shop floor power by reinforcing solidarity and building the communication network needed for a successful bargaining unit. The IAM Air Transport Territory, which includes IAM District 141 and IAM District 142, represents more than 100,000 air transport members. The IAM is the largest air transport union in North America.

Members are significantly more likely to feel the union is effective in helping obtain job-related improvements through their interactions with leadership on the shop floor.

Shop floor interactions also have strategic objectives:

  • To show members that the union is dedicated to job-related improvements.
  • To express concern for those members on the front lines
  • To encourage members to seek the union’s help in solving contract-related problems.
  • To promote participation in organizing and other union activities.
  • To foster optimism toward the negotiating power of the local.
  • To obtain immediate feedback on issues and concerns at any level.
  • To build relationships with the rank-and-file.
  • To ask directly for union involvement in a specific way.

Open dialogue and feedback sessions are one way to uncover what motivates our members. Taking the time to build relationships and foster trust is the cornerstone of solidarity practice. Another effective method is regular check-ins with shop floor members to gauge their satisfaction levels and address any concerns or challenges they may face. This shows members’ input is valued and that the IAM is committed to supporting their growth. Many members had the chance to be briefed and to ask Grand Lodge, District Lodge, and Local Lodge representatives questions.

“When leadership visits Denver, they walk with the Committee to all the break rooms and ready rooms,” said IAM Local 1886 Customer Service Committee Person Sue Weisner. “They listen to any concerns and answer any questions our members may have. If someone wants to talk to the leadership, they take the time to do so. The members here in Denver like to see our leaders, and I think it’s very important that the leadership recognizes them.”





 “When you see that the leaders support you, it gives you encouragement to go out there and do a good job for the membership,” said IAM Local 914 President and Stores Committeeperson Richard Roberts. “The members also get clarity to their questions, and it gives them a better understanding, especially coming from our leadership.”





“Our members were surprised at first,” said IAM Local 2198 President and Committee Person Tony Colina. “But once they learn our structure and how we run things, they realize somebody has their back. Our Air Transport leadership is just a phone call away.”





“It’s good seeing them come out to rally the troops,” said IAM Local 1726 Committee Chairperson Tim O’Connell. “It helps get the members together and builds solidarity. It was very impactful to have them here to spread their knowledge and educate the membership, and they were able to discuss and answer our members’ questions.”





“We take that time very seriously,” said IAM District 142 Education Director Al Melendez. “We try to make sure that their time on the shop floor is spent with as much exposure to the membership as possible. It encourages our members because they are able to ask questions directly to leadership, and the engagement of it all was well received.”





In early August 2023, a series of wildfires broke out in Hawaii, predominantly on the island of Maui. The wind-driven fires prompted evacuations and caused widespread damage, killing at least 100 people and leaving four persons missing in the town of Lahaina on Maui’s northwest coast. After the devastating fires, IAM Air Transport Territory leadership conducted a busy trip to the Hawaiian islands to meet IAM members from Maui. 

Wildfires devastated the island of Maui in August 2023. The IAM was among the first to respond.

Johnsen met with Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines members, discussed the disaster relief program, and distributed relief checks to members who had applied for assistance.

When leadership consistently shares information about goals, strategies, and decisions with all members, it fosters trust, encouraging more open discussions. As such, these meetings are a critical source of growth and support for the members and promote solidarity and strength for upcoming negotiations.

Promoting open lines of communication at all organizational levels creates an atmosphere where diverse perspectives are welcomed and ideas thrive. Open communication leads to stronger relationships between all IAM Members. 

In addition, investing in member development and training is crucial for the growth and success of the IAM. By providing opportunities for members to enhance their skills and knowledge, the union can improve individual performance and foster a culture of continuous learning by attending the IAM William W. Winpisinger Education and Technology Center. Attending these events and classes exposes workers to cutting-edge trends and best practices, enabling them to stay ahead of the curve within their respective jobs and duties.

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