Customer-service agents at American Airlines have voted overwhelmingly for union representation, reversing a narrow defeat for organized labor less than two years ago.
The results affect about 14,000 employees of American and US Airways at airports and reservations centers plus home-based reservations agents.
The airline business is among the most heavily unionized industries in the U.S. economy. Pilots, flight attendants and mechanics at American and US Airways have long been represented by unions, making American’s service agents a notable exception – until now.
The National Mediation Board, a federal agency that oversees union elections, said Tuesday that 86 percent of service agents voting favored representation by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Teamsters. The CWA lost a previous election at American in January 2013 by about 150 votes, or 51 percent to 49 percent
CWA President Larry Cohen said labor won because, unlike the last election, American’s management did not campaign against the union. American and US Airways merged in December, and the new company is run by the former leaders of US Airways, where the service agents had been represented by unions for more than a decade.
“When it is left to the employees, they would rather be engaged than apathetic,” Cohen said in an interview. “They would rather have a voice.”
American Airlines Group Inc. spokesman Paul Flaningan said that the company would work to reach new collective bargaining agreements covering both American and US Airways employees.
“We have enjoyed a productive relationship with the (CWA-Teamsters) as well as our other unions and look forward to continuing our work together,” he said in a written statement.
The mediation board said that 13,962 workers were eligible to vote. Of those, 9,640 voted for union representation and 1,547 voted against it.
About 9,000 of the eligible employees work at American and the rest at US Airways. The parent company, the world’s largest airline operator, plans to convert all US Airways planes and people to the American Airlines brand.
Negotiations on a contract covering the agents’ wages and other items are expected to begin this fall.
Separately, the mediation board on Tuesday approved the Allied Pilots Association as the union representing pilots at both airlines. That group had represented American Airlines pilots and was much larger than the union at US Airways.