Restoring Workers Bargaining Power

This story is from the Summer 2023 edition of the IAM Journal

The new IAM Air Transport Territory places great importance on negotiating and enforcing strong collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s). But negotiating industry leading contracts isn’t the only focus of the territory. Building bargaining power is key to negotiating a strong IAM contract.

“Negotiating team members can do more to win a good agreement by visiting worksites,” said IAM Air Transport Territory General Vice President Richie Johnsen.  “Communicating union goals and the bargaining process to the workers, and taking part in face to face meetings to listen to the members. Communication is key to restoring workers bargaining power.”

With thoughtful messaging and a regular cadence of communications, vital loops of feedback can keep a pulse on the workers’ top concerns and make the workers feel involved and strengthen the solidarity of the unit. An ongoing dialogue is necessary to keep members engaged and build a culture of trust. This helps the IAM stay up to date on workplace issues and quality of life concerns.

The combination of the pandemic, stagnant wages, increased public support for unions, and the influx of young workers into the labor movement have helped change the overall environment for negotiations. The airline industry has been short-staffed and travel demand is booming which also helps bargaining power.


Air Transport Territory leadership listens to membership concerns during a recent station visit.

United Airlines
Over the last 15 months, IAM members at United Airlines stood firm to ensure United remained a world-class airline by investing in their most valuable asset–their employees. As a result of the resources from the Grand Lodge, District 141 and the strength and solidarity from the shop floor to the bargaining table, IAM members at United Airlines received a strong tentative agreement. 

This tentative agreement will deliver the best in industry wages and stronger job protections. The two-year agreement covers seven different work classifications at the carrier, including Fleet Service Workers, Passenger Service Workers, Storekeepers, Central Load Planners, Maintenance Instructors, Fleet Technical Instructors and Security Officers.

Highlights of the tentative agreements include:

  • Industry-best wage rates.
  • The insourcing of five previously outsourced locations.
  • Protection of full-time employment and opportunities.
  • The permanent prohibition of outsourcing for 22 additional U.S. locations.
  • Increased lead and specialty premiums.
  • Extends system no lay-off protection to tens of thousands of more IAM members.
  • Twelve-month early opener of next negotiations and a $45 million ratification bonus.

Southwest Airlines
Approximately 9,000 Customer Service Employees, including Customer Representatives, Customer Service Agents and Source of Support Representatives, at Southwest Airlines and represented by IAM District 142 ratified a new, strong five-year agreement. 

  • The new contract gives members a 13.1% wage increase from the current wage on the date of ratification and a25.1% general wage increase over four years, putting its members at the top of the airline industry’s pay scale, as well as signing bonus of $200 per year of company service with a $1,000 minimum.
  • It also features “me too” clauses for top-of-scale wage rate, signing bonus, retro pay, and paid parking. The agreement also provides mandatory overtime protections including a monthly cap on mandatory overtime.

“This new contract makes me incredibly proud,” said Fabiola Lipeles, 24-year member at Southwest Airlines. “With wage increases – ours is one of the best in the industry, a new true rest period rule, improved mandatory overtime language, and improved vacation language, this is the best contract in our history.”

Air Transport Territory leadership meet with members at Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines
The more than 5,300 members of IAM District 142 who work in Ramp, Stores, Clerical, Office and Passenger Service at Alaska Airlines ratified a historic, industry-leading four-year contract.  

  • The contract raises base wage rates for all classifications to between 8.9% and 17.4% in the first year, and a minimum of 2.5% each year for all classifications over the life of the agreement. 
  • Wages will be adjusted in 2024 and 2025 to whichever is greater, a 2.5% raise or an increase that will equal top of scale to number four in the industry.

“By far one of the most important things in this contract for me was the extension of maternity leave,” said Melissa Hobson, an 18-year member at Alaska Airlines. “It closes the gap to what is really needed, and necessary during maternity leave, and this contract does that.”

Hawaiian Airlines
IAM District 141, which represents over 1,800 Ramp Service and Customer Service employees, and District 142, which serves over 600 members at Hawaiian Airlines, achieved new contracts featuring the best job protections and the largest pay rates for both groups in the history of Hawaiian Airlines while improving medical coverage and controlling medical insurance costs. 

      • Other highlights include an increase in the base rate of pay on date of ratification by a minimum of 10%, and increases each year over the five years of the contract by 2% each year.
      • The number of day trades available for all members increased, and raises mandatory overtime pay.For part-time workers, the agreements will bring more fairness and expanded healthcare options. 
      • Contractual Medical Plans capped at 12% employee contribution.
      • Improves sick leave for full and part time workers, and includes a signing bonus.

“Most workers want a union contract that guarantees the wages, benefits and working conditions they deserve,” said 29-year IAM member Arthur Coker. “This contract does that and more, all while protecting job security.”

“I’m thankful we still have our jobs,” said 17-year IAM member Merleigh Motooka. “Before this contract we – the cleaners, we didn’t have job security, and we were always on the chopping block. The job security in our contract is the best we’ve ever had.”

Spirit Airlines
Nearly 300 Ramp Service workers of IAM District 141 employed by Spirit Airlines in Fort Lauderdale, FL, ratified a five-year deal that provided the highest pay and overall compensation rates in the history of the carrier. 

      • The agreement also includes a ratification bonus of $100 per year of service, with a $500 minimum.
      • Other features include improved seniority rules, better work-life balance, and a “me too” clause for their 401(k). 

The contract creates pay rates that rise with historic speed – the new pay scales are the highest hourly rates for this classification in the history of the airline. Improvements for part time workers including paid sick time and paid vacation, while doubling the sick bank for full time employees.

“The members received an average 45% increase in wages,” said Tony Gibson, a 24-year member. “Combined with overtime rules and a signing bonus, this contract was life changing for many of our members.” 

McGee Air Services
More than 2,300 members in eight locations have ratified a two-year agreement extension with McGee Air Services, an Alaska Airlines subsidiary, that will put IAM District 142 members at McGee Air Services at one of the highest pay scale levels for airline operation vendors in the industry. 

      • The contract features a 5% wage increase at all steps in all locations on the date of ratification, and an additional 25 cent increase at each wage step for employees with more than 48 months and 60 months of service.
      • It includes contractual pay raises in accordance with the contract in July 2024, July 2025, and during the amendable period, and a $1,275 ratification bonus payable within 30 days of ratification.
      • Lead differential was increased from $2.50 to $6, and personal time off accruals increased.
      • A new 401(k) plan is being implemented, as well as a $50,000 life insurance policy for all employees paid for by the company. 

“This contract raised our standard of living,” said Marvin McCarter, a two-year member at McGee Air Services. “A wage increase at all steps, life insurance, and a new 401(k) with a company match, all had a positive effect on our members.” 

“Strong unions can counteract employers’ wage-setting power,” said Johnsen. “The goal is to lift members up to a higher standard of working and living. These contracts ensure that IAM members will continue to receive the excellent pay and job protections that they work so hard for and deserve.And it sets the tone for the rest of the airline industry.”


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