US Airways Flight Attendants, Finally United, Look to the Next Merger

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- At a historic meeting on Wednesday, flight attendants from US Airways and America West formally merged their union chapters, nearly eight years after the two carriers merged, and prepared to step into another merger into a bigger airline where their union's future is at stake.

"It's a historic day," said Veda Shook, national president of the Association of Flight Attendants, who attended the meeting in Charlotte. "US Airways has been through this rodeo five times prior; it has had many successful mergers. And America West, (which) has been the little airline that could, is poised to take over and become the world's largest airline." The America West management team, headed by Doug Parker, is expected to run the merged carrier.

Roger Holmin, who was elected president of the merged US Airways AFA chapter, added: "We've been called 'east' and 'west' for eight years. Today is a milestone: We are one." The union will have local chapters in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington. The local presidents elected Holmin, who took office May 2, to fill out a term that runs through Dec. 31. Another election for a full term will take place this fall.

Contract negotiations following the America West/US Airways merger were delayed for years. First, the airline delayed because it focused on a contract agreement with pilots, which it said could not be reached due to a lingering seniority dispute. Once the possibility of a merger with American took shape, talks sped up, but flight attendants twice rejected tentative agreements. On the third vote, in February, flight attendants finally ratified a contract that included a $1,700 signing bonus as well as profit sharing and increased pay. Veteran flight attendants have recently received checks for $3,000 to $5,000.

Now the union's attention will turn to assuring a smooth merger for the airline and for the union itself. AFA's US Airways chapter has about 8,000 members including about 2,000 from America West (Of the members, about 7,000 are active members), while the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American flight attendants, has about 16,000 members.

Shook said her intent is to work out an arrangement with the larger APFA to "find a meaningful pathway forward." That would be far better, she said, than the two other choices. One would be to "walk away, which is not really an option," she said. Similarly, "to fight it out, duke it out" makes no sense because it would involve "fighting with someone who is like us" in representing flight attendants and working people, she said. Added Holmin: "We're interested in doing what's in the best interest of all the flight attendants." The APFA is also "looking forward to an amicable solution," a spokesman said.