Who is behind UFAA, giving advice and profiting at the expense of Flight Attendants?
UFAA’s law firm, Seham, Seham, Meltz & Petersen, LLP., confirmed by the Company on January 14, 2016 and by Seham himself on March 1, 2016, has a long anti-union history and ties to the McCormick Advisory Group. McCormick was a union-busting operation led by a millionaire real estate developer with ties to right-to-work advocates and corporate executives.
McCormick worked to profit from workers’ dues by claiming to offer mechanics, Flight Attendants and other workers in our industry legal representation. But they only showed up when there was an existing union to pick apart. For them, it wasn’t about advancing the rights of workers, or helping non-union workers gain a union. Simply put, they were opportunists.
Dividing workers against each other was one of their most common tactics. And taking advantage of workers was their business plan. They preyed on workers in bankruptcy and mergers, because they knew it was easy to take advantage of times of challenge and concern.
But here’s the truth: the law firm McCormick used (Seham, Seham, Meltz and Petersen) has a long history of union-busting and representing management against workers.
Seham has represented corporations – including airlines such as TWA, SAS, El Al, Varig and Air Lingus – in legal actions against workers and unions, opposing workers’ rights for years. A few examples:
- Seham represented Varig’s effort to block a union election as far back as 1983;
- SAS used Seham to block the Teamsters from honoring picket lines during an Eastern Airlines strike in 1989;
- A lawyer from Seham’s firm even helped write a manual for employers called “Fire at Will, Terminating Your Employees Legally.”
- When the Allied Pilots Association (APA) at Air West found they were representing management against unions behind their backs, they fired McCormick.
It Gets Worse
One of Seham’s biggest labor clients has been AMFA, considered by many to be one of the worst unions in America. AMFA gives other unions a bad name by its incompetent and destructive actions, advised by Seham. Again, the workers within the union need our support – but the union-busters attempting to profit off their misfortune need to be exposed. The AMFA is a prime example of what happens when union busting firms such as McCormick and attorneys such as Seham get involved, promising their members a better experience with a new union. Here are some illustrative examples from our recent negotiations newsletter:
Inept Negotiations – On May 11, 2001, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) signed a contract with Northwest covering 10,000 mechanics. AMFA was a small, stand-alone, single-craft union; the leaders had little experience but lots of strong opinions. In return for fairly large wage increases, AMFA had agreed to allow management the unlimited right to contract out their work. They bet that management would not do so and the highly-skilled mechanics’ jobs would be safe. It was a fatal mistake. A mere four days later, management began contracting out massive numbers of the mechanics’ jobs.
10,000 Jobs Lost – As they watched management send thousands of jobs to contractors and lay off Northwest mechanics, AMFA made its second fatal mistake. In the industry downturn that followed the 9/11 attacks, management demanded more concessions. AMFA leaders refused to let the members vote on management’s final offer. Then, without a strike vote, AMFA leaders took the Northwest mechanics out on what has become known as the “Suicide Strike.” Northwest management, which had a well-known record of union busting, was ready: they brought in hundreds of scabs, contracted out more jobs, and were able to maintain flight operations with few or no interruptions due to the strike. In the end, AMFA created a scenario in which 10,000 mechanics lost their jobs and only a few hundred strike-breakers remained working. When Northwest merged with Delta, AMFA simply walked away without a fight.
There’s a reason union-busters try to divide workers and undercut existing unions.
Independent unions are fertile ground for these tactics by union busters. Larger unions, with greater resources and the support of the AFL-CIO, don’t use firms like this for a reason. We have the benefit of numerous very experienced professionals on our own staff, respected consultants with vast experience throughout the industry, and the backing of America’s largest labor federation. Seham and firms like it are well aware that established unions don’t fall for their tactics, so they target anyone who might be vulnerable to their claims and willing to pay. They isolate smaller, independent unions from the larger unions and labor movement in order to weaken the union’s voice and increase their reliance on the union-busting firm.
Negative Impact on Negotiations
Everyone knows that the key to success in negotiations is unity. So, when firms foster divisions in our ranks, we all suffer. The decertification process becomes a distraction from the important issues in bargaining. Management, of course, loves this because it reduces the pressure on them to reach an agreement or to meet our demands. Management knows decertification campaigns can go on for a long time, which also works to management’s advantage: every delay is more time for them to avoid agreeing to the union’s demands at the bargaining table. There’s a reason management sometimes runs their own decertification campaign, even if United management is not paying for this one.
Be Cautious – Don’t Sign Anything
There have been reports that UFAA promoters are telling our Flight Attendants lots of things to get them to sign a union authorization card. “Just sign so you’ll get more information.” Or, “Just sign to show you care about that issue [whatever issue you mention].” Flight Attendants who change their minds after signing may find out it’s too late; there’s no requirement that they let you withdraw your card or cancel it for you. (Although failure to follow your request is proof that this is not about seeking to improve your representation or promote work place democracy.) Remember, a union authorization card is a legal document that will be used in evidence at the National Mediation Board to determine if there’s enough support to call for a decertification election. It takes 50% of the entire combined Flight Attendant work force. The best way to stop any attempt to divide us is to simply refuse to sign a card.
One other word of caution: if a decertification election is called, the ballot would include spots to vote for AFA, for UFAA and for “No Union.” It’s not as simple as switching unions, or even “sending a message” with your vote. The ultimate risk of a decertification election is that we will all wind up with no union. You may not think that’s likely, but management will be pushing very hard to get the Flight Attendants to vote the union out altogether. None of us wants to end up without a union, without a contract and without a voice.
For a law firm like Seham to try to divide us when we’re raising the pressure on management to agree to our contract does more than undercut our efforts.
It’s a threat to our rights as workers.
The law firm isn’t important. Changing to a new consultant won’t change the negative impact. The way that we create positive inertia is by breaking down barriers to unity, listening to each other, encouraging involvement to affect the positive change we want. Creating change within our union to promote a real understanding of our entire community of Flight Attendants and our collective priorities is what will make the difference at the bargaining table.
Bottom line, changing the letters of the union doesn’t change the people who comprise the union, and it especially doesn’t change United’s insulting contract proposals. For that we need to stand united as one in AFA.
Which is why we urge you to stand united. Because united is how we will achieve satisfaction at work with a contract that reflects our fair share of the profits we help create.
Be a part of change. Contact your Local Council to get involved in shaping our AFA of today.