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Record-shattering levels of new union activism are changing the landscape of American labor within the airline industry

The largest union in the commercial aviation industry is the Machinists Union. The largest single division of the IAM is District 141, home to more than 42 thousand active and retired members.

Machinists at District 141, who work at major airlines like American and United, as well as smaller airlines like Spirit, function as an industry-wide negotiating body. Machinists contracts negotiated at District 141 have made $30 an hour a new industry standard pay rate for all airlines. They’ve also created agreements that make the outsourcing of work nearly impossible for their airlines to do legally.  These landmark contracts are forcing all airlines to keep up with Machinists to attract and retain good employees.

It’s no surprise then, that the Machinists at District 141 are creating a fertile breeding ground for new activism. Young and energetic, these newly engaged members are forming the vanguard of an emerging new kind of unionist.

The potency of this surge of union activists was on clear display at the Machinists biannual District 141 Convention, held this month in Orlando, Florida. This convention saw a record-breaking level of participation from airline workers, setting records in the overall number of delegates representing local union lodges, and also a record number of delegates attending their first union convention.

To find out what might be driving the increase in new union activism, we asked first-time delegates why they got involved, and what they hoped to achieve over the next year.

Michelle, Local 811 Houston

“I came here to educate myself, so I can do a better job for my fellow co-workers in Houston. I want to bring back something useful from this convention that will help people understand how their union works, and how they can help out.”

Rosario, Local 1487 Chicago

“We need to protect our jobs, that’s the number one priority for me. The more of us that are fighting to protect our jobs, the better. I’m here to be a better defender of our job security and rights.”

Carletta, Local 2198 Houston

“I’m really interested in doing more. A lot of new members don’t understand what the purpose of the union is, what the union is for. So, I’d like to be a part of getting that education out into the field.”

Rayshawn, Local 1445 Newark

“I was sworn in as a Shop Steward in February of this year. For me, personally, it comes down to education. We need to educate ourselves to a level that will empower us to protect our jobs, our bodies, and the overall welfare of our jobs.”

Sam, Local 1487 Chicago

“I was inspired to get involved by our Local President, Tony Licciardi. He demands a high level of member involvement, and wants us to be included any time that decisions that will impact our work area are being made.”

Tevita, Local 1781 San Francisco

“The most important thing for me is job security, and to prevent management from bullying the men and women that make our airline successful. Some of them want to step on our necks, and we need to confront that. To do that, I need to learn more about our union, and grow as a Shop Steward.”

Daniel, Local 1781 San Francisco

“I’m here to educate myself on how to become a stronger Shop Steward, and how to defend the dignity of my coworkers. I feel like I learned a lot by getting to hear directly from District 141 President Mike Klemm, and the historic work that he’s done for this industry.”

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