The Teamsters say they have enough support to force an election with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to see which union will represent mechanics at US Airways.
Teamsters union officials said Tuesday that they received support of 2,800 of the roughly 4,500 US Airways workers who would be eligible to vote.
The Teamsters' ambitions are not limited to replacing the machinists' union, known as the IAM, at US Airways. They are eyeing a bigger prize: The 11,000 mechanics at American Airlines, who are represented by a third labor group, the Transport Workers Union, or TWU.
Speaking at a Teamsters news conference in Charlotte, N.C., US Airways mechanic Jim Blanton said that under IAM representation, he and his co-workers have endured concessionary contracts even as the airline has reported record profits. He said the Teamsters union, which claims to represent 18,000 mechanics at 10 different airlines, is "the best and logical choice" for US Airways mechanics.
The Teamsters hope to exploit unease over the IAM's inability to negotiate a new contract with US Airways. In response, IAM officials said US Airways mechanics would no longer be covered by the union's fully funded pension plan if they join the Teamsters. Blanton said workers who are fully vested would not lose their benefits if their union changes.
Joseph Tiberi, an IAM official, said that the Teamsters became more interested in representing US Airways mechanics when speculation grew last year of a possible merger between the company and American Airlines. In February the two carriers announced plans to merge and create the world's biggest airline. They hope to complete the deal in late summer.
The IAM and the Transport Workers could end up fighting to see who represents mechanics after American and US Airways merge. For now they're united in opposition to the Teamsters. A top TWU official said that the Teamsters, in going after another union's members, were "acting like a parasite."
"They are desperately attempting to feed off another organization to cover up their own failures" and lost members, said Garry Drummond, director of the TWU's airline division. He said the Teamsters "sat on their hands while jobs were outsourced overseas."
The fighting among unions to represent mechanics at American Airlines could get even more tangled: A fourth group, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, is also trying to challenge TWU.