Operational Merger Questions

Date: October 18, 2010
Type: AFA Article

Updated: February 14, 2011

There is a great deal of misinformation circling through social media, email and word of mouth. Be sure to check the facts with your Union. This merger will bring change and there's enough to keep up on without creating more stress or concern based on false information. AFA will post the latest information and answer your questions as they come. Please check the official information from AFA, and ask questions when you have them. The following are some answers to questions we have already received.


In a merger does one Flight Attendant Contract act as the surviving Contract for the combined group?

No. The Contract for each respective Flight Attendant group remains in place until a single Contract is negotiated and ratified by the combined Flight Attendant workforce. If AFA represents the combined work group, our Union negotiates for a new single Contract with the best provisions from each separate Contract based on the goals defined by the entire Flight Attendant community at the new United Airlines.  The Negotiating Committee would include representatives from each pre-merger airline and this committee would work with our professional negotiators, attorneys and other advisors to achieve our collective goals for improvements in a new single Contract.

If the Machinists’ Union becomes the representative of the combined group, can they impose their contract on us and/or do they have to negotiate a single contract?

Whichever Union wins the election will hold the bargaining rights for the combined group, and would initially be charged with administering both Contracts.  The two contracts would remain in effect pursuant to the provisions of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) until a single contract covering the combined group is agreed upon between the surviving Union and the Company.

If AFA-CWA is elected, our goal will be to negotiate a single contract which incorporates the best of both agreements, utilizing a combined pre-merger United and pre-merger Continental negotiating committee.

In their own communications the Machinists have touted, “United is focusing on the IAM-Continental Flight Attendant agreement as a model for what a contract would look like following a merger and representation election.” The Machinists are clearly already backing this approach, and if they are elected as the representative, they may view their election as an endorsement of the Continental Contract becoming the single Contract for the combined group, and essentially abandon all the provisions of the United Contract without making any attempt to incorporate them.

How would AFA conduct single Contract negotiations?

Our goal in Single Contract Negotiations will be to capture the best of both Contracts, plus the improvements necessary to achieve the Contract that the Flight Attendants working for the world's largest airline truly deserve.

As with all negotiations, every Member would have the opportunity to provide feedback about negotiating priorities through surveys, meetings, emails and discussions with their representatives. Extensive surveys and other means to collect Member feedback would determine our collective priorities. Negotiations would be focused on you as a United Flight Attendant, both pre-merger Continental and United Flight Attendants together. Our negotiating proposals based on our priorities will be reviewed and approved by the Local Council Presidents representing both groups of pre-merger Flight Attendants.

The Negotiating Committee will consist of an equal number of Flight Attendants from each pre-merger airline, as elected by their respective AFA Master Executive Councils or Local Council Presidents, and would include the MEC Presidents from both Master Executive Councils. The Committee works in conjunction with an AFA professional negotiator, and utilizes the resources available through AFA department experts and professional advisors.

Does the Section 6 negotiations process go away if IAM prevails?

Section 6 negotiations end with a ratified agreement or when the parties walk away from the negotiations. AFA maintains our rights under Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act as this process provides oversight, deadlines and a path to conclude negotiations. We do not know how the Machinists would choose to conduct negotiations for a single Contract, but they have given us a good idea. In their own communications the Machinists have touted, “United is focusing on the IAM-Continental Flight Attendant agreement as a model for what a contract would look like following a merger and representation election.” The Machinists are clearly already backing this approach, and if they are elected as the representative, they may view their election as an endorsement of the Continental Contract becoming the single Contract for the combined group, and essentially abandon Section 6 negotiations and all of the provisions of the United Contract without making any attempt to incorporate them.


How does our AFA Merger Policy work with the McCaskill-Bond Amendment that provides for an arbitrator to consider “fair and equitable” seniority integration?

The McCaskill-Bond amendment does not supersede our AFA Merger Policy. The law provides a floor, a minimum, to protect Flight Attendant seniority; it is there in the absence of a Union policy that provides a "fair and equitable" integration. AFA helped write the language and get it passed into law to protect Flight Attendant seniority and ensure that one Union could not simply decide to place another seniority list at the bottom of their seniority list. The law ensures that without agreement, the issue would go before an arbitrator to determine a “fair and equitable” seniority integration.

AFA’s policy meets the standard of “fair and equitable.” Your seniority - including an accounting for any differences in Flight Attendant seniority start date, ie. before training/after training - is protected under the AFA Merger Policy. There is no legal challenge to this policy. If the combined Flight Attendant group is represented by AFA, then the AFA Merger Policy determines seniority integration.

When will the seniority list integration take place?

Seniority list integration typically takes place after the issue of Union representation is resolved through a vote conducted by the National Mediation Board. The Machinists could agree to work with AFA now on this issue and every other issue affecting Flight Attendants – we have invited them to work with us for the best interests of Flight Attendants. So far they have declined to do so. If their decision to remain isolated persists the seniority integration process will not take place until after the representation election.

If the election is in favor of AFA then all Flight Attendants are represented by AFA and the AFA Merger Policy moves forward as described in black and white. The AFA Merger Policy spells out the process and keeps us working together while every Flight Attendant's seniority is protected. This way we can focus on negotiations, and use our power by standing together to get the best single contract; one that combines the best of both contracts.

Question: Is there an example of use of the AFA Merger Policy where there were different Unions involved?

Yes. American Eagle is represented by AFA. The airline is a product of a merger between four airlines - Simmons, Wings West, Flagship and Executive - with representation by three different Unions - AFA, APFA and TWU.

A representation election took place to determine which Union would be the representative of the combined work group. AFA won and then the AFA Merger Policy was used to implement seniority integration (Flight Attendant Seniority, referred to by some as date-of-hire).

Representation Election

When will the representation election take place?

AFA began the process for a representation election through our January 18th application to the National Mediation Board (NMB) for a single carrier determination. We took this step because we didn’t want to wait another day to unify us in one union so we can stand together for the best circumstances for Flight Attendants. While the timing of the election will be determined by the NMB, but we can expect an election will begin in the next few months.

Will Flight Attendants on voluntary furlough or leaves of absence be eligible to vote in a representation election conducted by the NMB?

All Flight Attendants on the seniority list are eligible to vote in the representation election, regardless of leave status. The only exception to this is Flight Attendants who are on the seniority list and working in a management position for the airline are not eligible to vote.

Can Flight Attendants based in an International domicile participate in a representation election?

Shortly after the announcement of the merger between United and Continental Airlines we started receiving questions about the Union election voting rights of Flight Attendants based in international domiciles. These questions were traced back to statements made by Machinists’ officers and a statement made by a local Machinists’ Union officer questioning their rights directly to an AFA Officer. AFA immediately responded with a notice to all AFA Members making it clear that they were covered under the Railway Labor Act and had all the rights of any other Member working under our Contract.

AFA also immediately set up a meeting with the National Mediation Board to address the issue and following the meeting sent this notice to all Members’ homes on October 1, 2010:

It is AFA's strongly-held position that Flight Attendants based in International domiciles are eligible to vote in a representation election.

The NMB, the federal agency in charge of conducting representation elections under the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., the federal law governing labor relations in the airline industry, publishes eligibility guidelines for employee participation in a Union representation election.  One of its rules states that:  “Only employees based within the United States and/or its possessions are eligible.”  Section 9.209, NMB Representation Manual.

The rationale for this rule is clear: only employees covered under the RLA can participate in an NMB election.  Because the RLA generally does not apply to those airline employees working outside the United States or its territories, normally they are ineligible to vote.

United, however, has voluntarily and affirmatively applied the RLA to all Flight Attendants on the United Fight Attendant Seniority List no matter where they are based.  Though the NMB has not directly ruled on the eligibility of United Flight Attendants based in International domiciles, because United has consistently treated all its Flight Attendants as if they were based in the U.S., the Union is confident that the NMB will allow all United Flight Attendants to vote - even those based overseas.

The NMB is not in the business of disenfranchising workers from the process. The parties involved in this issue are AFA, United and the Machinists’ Union. 

  1. AFA believes the facts strongly support all United Flight Attendant’s right to vote in a representation election and we are prepared to defend this position through all legal means available. 
  2. United has made its position clear through numerous employment documents and nearly 20 years of collective bargaining. 
  3. We find it hard to believe the Machinists would seek to disenfranchise United Flight Attendants by arguing against their right to vote.

Our union protects the rights of every AFA Member.  In a Union Representation Vote every Flight Attendant on the seniority list, including those on leave of absence and furlough, is eligible to vote.  The only people excluded from the vote are those who are currently working in management.

What is the history of Continental Flight Attendants and Union representation? Who was the Union before IAM and did AFA ever try to organize Continental?

Continental Flight Attendants were a part of the predecessor Union to AFA, the S&S division of the Air Lines Pilots Association (ALPA). There were a lot of reasons Flight Attendants wanted to have our own Union - but generally AFA broke away from ALPA because we couldn't get our issues addressed as Flight Attendants. Before that happened, Continental Flight Attendants formed an independent Union, Union of Flight Attendants, with the help of attorney Jay Roth who became their General Counsel. The Union ran an unsuccessful 18-month strike and went bankrupt about the time Continental was in Chapter 11. After that Continental Flight attendants became members of the Machinists' Union. Jay Roth later worked as a consultant to the Machinists, including on the United ESOP deal.

Continental Flight Attendants were never a part of the AFA we have today. We learned from our history as a part of ALPA. When we sought a Union merger partner our top priority was finding a relationship that would benefit Flight Attendants by maintaining our autonomy. That's why we chose the Communications Workers of America (CWA) because CWA guaranteed our autonomy and the structure that ensures Flight Attendants retain governance of the Union.

Retirement Security

Are we voting on having a pension?

No. Continental Flight Attendants have a pension that is sponsored by the company, the Continental Airlines Retirement Plan (CARP). That pension plan is in place and AFA is committed to fighting to retain it. UAL management terminated the four employee pension plans during bankruptcy and AFA was the only union to fight the termination. After our pension plan had been terminated and once we had exhausted all legal challenges, legislative initiatives and a public pressure campaign we used the leverage built through our three-track fight to negotiate a replacement plan that more than doubled the amount United management originally proposed to pay for a Flight Attendant retirement plan.

We are voting on which union we want to represent us going forward.

The whole pension question, however, does give us valuable insight. Take a look at how two different unions have approached this issue.

When United management used the bankruptcy court to terminate our pension plan we fought it while every other union agreed to the termination. When the courts allowed United and the PBGC to terminate the pensions we reviewed every possible option for maintaining retirement security, including the option of joining the Machinists’ pension plan. We are Flight Attendants who are subject to the same retirement plan as everyone we represent and whose job as elected union leaders is to advocate Flight Attendants issues. 

We hired expert actuaries to carefully analyze our members’ situation and the options available to us. You see based upon age, years of service and expected retirement date for most Flight Attendants our plan delivers a better benefit. The plan we negotiated was presented to AFA Members who ratified the plan with a 79% vote in favor. 

-The IAM National Plan-

The Machinists agreed to termination of their United members’ pensions and negotiated starting a new accrual one year later in the IAM National Pension Plan. We believe that a pension plan like the IAM plan can be good for its members under the right circumstances. But, it is the specific circumstances that change everything as it did for United Flight Attendants. Additionally, a plan like the Machinists has substantial liabilities that they must meet to existing and vested retirees which often times can only be balanced against the contributions and benefits of new members. In December the Machinists announced a 40% reduction in benefits for some of their members. We were solely focused on what was in the best interests of the Flight Attendants that we represent, not the interests of a particular plan or other considerations.

In an IAM January 24, 2011 Q and A explaining a reduction in benefits for IAM members at US Airways:

“The already accrued benefits of these groups make up 71% of the Plan’s liabilities. That leaves the remaining 29% (for active participants with future benefits) as the only category where adjustments could be made.”

In this case, future retirees end up paying for more senior members’ and current retirees’ benefits because the plan can only change the benefit of all the participants going forward. 

We understand that Continental Flight Attendants have twice voted to reject freezing their pension plan (CARP) in order to start a new accrual in the Machinists’ pension plan. But, under the contract negotiated by the Machinists’ that is exactly what happens. No analyses, no presentation of facts, no ability to decide. It may or may not be the right choice for Continental Flight Attendants but shouldn’t Continental Flight Attendants make that decision?

United management was terribly wrong when they used the bankruptcy court to terminate our pension plan.  Continental would be terribly wrong to freeze their pension plan. Continental Flight Attendants have made the decision twice to keep the pension plan they have and AFA would fight to retain that plan just as we fought against the termination of our pension plan. United Airlines is not in bankruptcy so the airline does not have the same tools available to management to take action on the plan without mutual agreement – and the airline is projected to make billions of dollars.   AFA will negotiate based on what Flight Attendants want. That is the choice before us, which union is best prepared to represent us.

Continental Questions

Is IAM the administrator of the IAM pension plan?

The Pension Fund is administered by a joint Board of Trustees consisting of equal representation by the I.A.M. and the contributing employers. The Trustees hire a Fund Director and office staff to maintain records, issue benefit payments and handle day-to-day administrative tasks. Contributions to the fund for retirees’ benefits must also cover the costs of administration and investment managers. In its 5500 report filed with the US Department of Labor in 2008, the Fund Director was reported to be paid a salary of $386,791 and the Assistant Fund Director was paid $252,760. In the same year investment managers were paid over $25 million. The fund must also cover costs for litigation to defend the assets from retirees who sue the fund over denied benefits.

Does Continental have separate domestic and international domiciles?


Does Continental have a 401(k) match?

No. There is a 401k employer sponsored plan at Continental, but the company policy does not provide any company contributions.

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