Winter 2023-2024 IAM Journal
The IAM Air Transport Territory has been working toward building momentum with new and young members entering the airline industry.
With an influx of new and young members over the last couple of years and in the coming few years, leaders in Air Transport locals are looking to teach their replacements and create new activists.
Making a First Impression
IAM Air Transport Territory General Vice President Richie Johnsen’s dream of a base new hire training came to fruition in 2022, just in time for a rush of hiring in the airline industry as it recovered from the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, the world was struck by pandemic. Airline carriers offered buy-outs for retirement and the Air Transport Territory lost thousands of members.
“The timing was a driving factor because the writing was on the wall,” said Johnsen. “We already knew, having met with the different companies, that they would be hiring in mass. The projections were anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 people hired in the industries that we represent in the next five years.”
This was the time to build a new hire orientation that would educate a flood of new members about the IAM, the contracts that had been hard-fought, and the importance of being an active member.
Johnsen met with the CEOs of all the major carriers the IAM represents and convinced them to give the union two hours during their new hire training.
Then, Air Transport Territory members were called on to help create the curriculum.
“The initial program was created and through revisions from our office and the Communications Department, we were able to develop a presentation that includes videos from leadership introducing themselves to the new hires,” said Fraser.
The most important part of the presentation is that it was made to be adaptable, in more than one way.
There are specific parts where locals are able to insert their own history with the carrier they represent and how the union has helped the industry.
“There’s a story at every one of those properties and we have to tell it,” said Johnsen. “This is our first season that we can plant seeds with these people, and if we don’t take this opportunity, we miss it, and somebody else plants the seeds.”
The presentation also has the ability to be tailored to any industry, so almost all the other IAM territories are using some version of it now.
Empowering Young Members
When Johnsen and Fraser took leadership of the territory, part of their initiative was to visit work locations.
“We have been to many locations, from as far east as San Juan, Puerto Rico to out west in Guam,” said Fraser. “One of the things we talk about during those visits is empowering our young workers and carrying on the vision of the IAM, because our young workers are our leaders for tomorrow.”
As a result of embracing youth and continuing to send that message throughout the territory, more and more young people are starting to step up in places like Charlotte, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Local 1725 in Charlotte is one of the locals building their young workers committee and enticing young workers to participate in the union.
Nolan Arnold, 28, is the local’s Young Workers Committee Chair, and Mark Caines, 39, is the Human Rights Committee Chair and Young Workers Committee Co-Chair. Both Arnold and Caines are ramp agents at American Airlines and shop stewards.
“We did a bowling event that made our young workers really feel like they could come to something that’s for them,” said Caines. “We promoted it through social media, with flyers, and by word-of-mouth. We have some people involved who others trust and look to for guidance, so if they say they’re coming to an event, others want to go too.”
Arnold had first put together a survey to assess what the members would want in a membership day.
“I realized that it’s very hard to get people to even want to learn about the local before they feel welcomed,” said Arnold. “We got a committee together for the young workers, and everybody had a hand in making that event happen, whether it was finding a bowling alley and pricing things out or promoting it to the members, everybody felt that they were a part of it.”
Arnold says there are about six committee members and they work as a true committee, without just one person making all the major decisions.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell who our chair is if you came to Charlotte, because there’s so many hands on it,” said Arnold.
“We’re trying to make sure that everybody has a hand in it, so they don’t feel like the union is a service,” said Arnold. “It’s a team, not a service. Everybody needs to try their hardest. You can’t expect the top few representatives to do all the work for everybody.”
Since the bowling party, more people have been showing up to local business meetings and showing more interest in the union in general.
“They don’t realize they’re young workers because they have six or seven years working, but if you don’t come to union meetings and don’t know the IAM, you’re a young Machinist,” said Caines. “It’s our job to help you grow into being a regular union member.”
Local 1725 also has a station agreement where new hires get three weeks of training from the company and three weeks of training with the union separately. They call this the
“In those three weeks, we train them how to do the job and give them three weeks of unionism,” said Caines. “After those three weeks of hearing about the union, some of them really want to be a part of what we keep talking about.”
President of Local Lodge 1725 Helena Thornton says their hard work isn’t going unnoticed.
“I am extremely proud of what they bring to the next generation of ‘Fighting Machinists’,” said Thornton. “I’m excited to see what they have coming up next and grateful to have them as part of our local. Our executive board will continue to support them in every way we can.”
Philadelphia Local 1776 has made new and young member engagement a priority. They have their own shadowing program to teach new members how the union works with the company and the members, all in the hopes of creating union stewards.
“A lot of our members have never been in a union before. Some of them haven’t even heard of a union,” said Local 1776 President Larry Reeves.
“We teach them what a union is about, what a union stands for, and what a union can do for you,” said Reeves. “We teach them how it’s not just about fighting to get out of trouble if you need us, but what a union offers you and your family.”
They encourage members to grab a friend and bring them to the union meeting, where Reeves provides refreshments and hands out IAM T-shirts and gear.
Reeves and other members also host softball, football and basketball games and try to get everyone involved. Often, people will be talking about games and building community with each other after the business of meetings is finished.
“We’ll put the ramp department against the maintenance department,” says Reeves. “It’s a big fun thing. We get jerseys with ‘Local Lodge 1776’ on them and the winner gets a trophy. We do things like this year-round to keep everyone engaged and people can bring family. We do cookouts in the summer and a Thanksgiving Day morning football game.”
Reeves said that he became passionate about mentorship within the union because he was mentored himself.
“That’s how I got involved, I was mentored,” says Reeves.
“I was given the chance and the opportunity, and it was something I fell in love with. I want everyone to experience that. I want everyone to know what the union can do for them.”
Houston Local 2198’s Tony Colina says that having those two hours of orientation to explain the union’s work has had an enormous impact.
“We go over their benefits, of course. One of the things that they can’t believe is that our union offers stuff like free college and disaster recovery,” said Colina. “The biggest thing is the contract, though. Once these young people see what a union shop is, how we bargain for our contract covers my back here. There is somebody who has been working for me.’”
San Francisco Local 1781 got a new communicator from their recent orientation—a young member who is new to the union was inspired to get involved immediately and took the position as soon as his probation was over.
“It’s a reflection of our union embracing the next generation,” said Johnsen. “If we want a future, even for us who are leaving someday, we have to make sure we’re empowering the people behind us to step up and take over.”
On the Horizon: A Mentorship Program
The new hire orientation and rising young worker activism are the first two pieces of an investment plan for the next generation. The final piece is building a structured mentorship program.
“We want to get young people involved at any level of the union, whether it’s young worker committees, women’s committees, human rights, or legislative,” said Johnsen.
“We need to be going out and not just promoting, but recruiting.”
The territory expects to develop it similarly to how they created the new hire orientation, and they want it to go beyond just the Air Transport Territory.
“We’re looking to build something that can expand to the entire organization,” said Johnsen. “We’re just going to keep leading the way.”