The 24,000 flight attendants of the new American Airlines are on an expedited track toward their first contract, leaders of the cabin crews' union said on a visit to Philadelphia Tuesday.
"I am blown away by how well everyone is working together," Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), said on her first trip to Philadelphia International Airport since the merger of US Airways and American Airlines in December.
"Everyone is focused on the job at hand, and the negotiating committee has bonded in a way I could have never imagined," she said. "It's happened very quickly."
Glading was joined by Roger Holmin, president of US Airways flight attendants' master executive council. Both have been meeting with flight attendants at US Airways hub airports. They were in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, and will visit Phoenix and Washington to chat and answer questions in the crew rooms.
The unions, APFA at American and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) at US Airways, had been rivals and sparred briefly last fall over which would represent the flight attendants, who make up one-quarter of the 100,000 workers at the new American.
The US Airways group regarded the American flight attendants' "conditional" labor agreement with the new company as concessionary, Holmin said. The unions reached an agreement on bargaining and representation, keeping the best of each airline's contracts "culturally and monetarily as our starting point," Glading said.
The bargaining committee is composed of seven US Airways and seven American flight attendants. The union submitted its opening proposal to the company April 24. The negotiation schedule will be expedited, with 150 days to get a contract or go to binding arbitration.
"The AFA and APFA both realized the flight attendants did not want a representation election," Glading said. "They've been through so much. They just want to move forward, see what their future is going to look like, and get improvements."
About 2,300 active flight attendants are based in Philadelphia, and 200 more are on medical and other leaves, Holmin said.
More than 75 percent of flight attendants assigned to Philadelphia commute in from other cities to begin and end trips here.
There are challenges in combining 100,000 employees from different unions, with varied work rules, seniority issues, and compensation levels.
In April, six labor unions at US Airways wrote CEO Doug Parker, who now heads the combined airline, demanding that management keep commitments made during the merger to all its employees "and make this the best airline in the world."
Glading, a strong proponent of the merger, said the flight attendants "have been working very hard on the transition. It's a lot of work, but I think if every labor group took the time and made the commitment that they are going to make it work, they would realize the benefit of the merger so much quicker."
Holmin added: "We have the mantra '24,000 strong' because together we are stronger than we are apart. As long as we stay committed to each other and solid, the company can't divide us, which is sometimes a practice of management to divide work groups."