USAir ticket agents reject bid to unionize

August 19, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

USAir's ticket agents and reservation clerks have rejected organized labor's attempt to unionize them, giving the beleaguered airline's management a rare bit of good news as it struggles to restore the company's financial health.

Neither the United Steelworkers of America nor the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers was able to muster a simple majority of the 9,874 eligible workers, according to mail-in ballots counted yesterday. Workers cast 1,696 votes for the Steelworkers and 1,406 votes for the Machinists. Failure to return a ballot was counted as a "no" vote.

"We knew it was an uphill climb, but recent events have clearly demonstrated that unions are clearly needed at USAir," said Gary Hubbard, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh-based Steelworkers. He said the union may try again next year.

The vote came less than a month after USAir fleet service workers, who load and unload planes, decided to join the Machinists union, forcing the Arlington, Va.-based airline's management to negotiate with an additional 7,800 employees as it tries to cut $1 billion a year in costs.

Organizing the ticket and reservation agents had been expected to be far more difficult, because those workers traditionally have identified more with management and have been far less affected by USAir layoffs than the fleet service workers.

Having to negotiate with unionized workers gives the company far less flexibility since labor unions typically have contractual language that protects them from certain actions.

Nearly two-thirds of USAir's 44,000 workers are unionized. USAir is the dominant carrier at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where it employs about 2,300 people.

The issue of union representation has grown in importance in recent months as the carrier tries to develop a cost-cutting plan. The company is asking its employees to provide $500 million a year in givebacks.

Recently, the pilots union gave the airline a pay-cut proposal that would give all employees a 25 percent stake in the company.

The other major unions, representing flight attendants and machinists, have yet to put forward a plan. Theirs is expected to focus more on productivity changes.

USAir has said that nonunionized workers will be asked to make concessions, but that it will give them credit for previous concessions that the union members did not have to make.

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