Machinists Union Members at United Begin Contract Talks

Dec 9, 2021

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers began contract negotiations with United Airlines on Tuesday at the unions’ district headquarters in Chicago. The union is negotiating seven separate contracts at the airline, which will cover approximately 23,000 workers.

Both parties are working to return to the process of expedited negotiations, which had originally been scheduled to begin sometime in early 2020, but were postponed due to the pandemic. “The possibility that we could come to an agreement sooner rather than later is definitely on the table,” said Machinists Union District President Mike Klemm, who is involved in the talks. 

While the prospect of producing an agreement in the near term is appealing, Klemm cautioned that the union and company were still in the very early stages of drafting a new agreement, and that no solid deal had been worked out yet.

Under the Railway Labor Act, the set of laws that governs labor unions in the transportation sector, workers and employers can engage in an expedited collective bargaining process that would not renegotiate every aspect of an existing contract, but would instead update only the provisions that the union members target. 

The expedited process will give IAM members at United the opportunity to improve wages, benefits, and working conditions in the very near future,” Klemm told union members in the lead-up to the negotiations. “We used a similar model back in 2016 with great success, and both IAM District 141 and United agreed to discuss trying it again. Our hope is we can replicate that success, which brought us industry-leading contracts at the time.”

The IAM and United agreed in November 2015 to open existing collective bargaining agreements early and enter “limited issue, expedited negotiations” to take advantage of favorable industry conditions. The process concluded after four months of intense bargaining and led to industry-best contracts for IAM-represented workers at United Airlines.

At the time, the pact between United and the Machinists Union created some of the highest wages for fleet and customer service agents, instructors, and other unionized workgroups in the history of American commercial aviation. That deal produced wage increases of just over 18%, and overall compensation levels that delivered more than $3 billion for US-based airline workers. 

In 2019, an alliance between the Machinists Union and the Transport Workers Union at American Airlines produced another historic agreement. Once again, union members saw historic wage increases, this time accompanied by some of the most ironclad job protections the industry had ever seen. That agreement was ratified by an incredible 95% of fleet service workers – an almost impossible feat for a group the size of the unionized workers at American. In all, more than 30,000 workers at American Airlines are members of either the Machinists or Transport Workers Union. 

The personnel that drafted those historic agreements are returning once again to the bargaining table to hammer out the contract at United. Among them, Tom Regan, a veteran negotiator working on the United contract, has become legendary for his ability to close a deal. Regan, along with Assistant Airline Coordinator at the Machinists Union’s Transportation Territory, James Carlson, will be joining the negotiating team. 

“The main thing I want our members to know is that, yes, we want to bring a deal home as soon as possible,” Klemm said of the negotiations. “But, speed cannot come at the risk of losing things like job security. It won’t matter if our members are making $35 an hour if they don’t have strong job security protections,” he said. “The job protections we won in the 2016 United agreement and at American are the best our industry has ever seen,” he said. “And these protections are non-negotiable unless they improve.”

Thousands of United workers across different classifications from all over the nation participated in a pre-negotiations survey which shaped the topics of discussion for improvement in the upcoming contract.

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