The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has dropped its bid to recruit about 12,000 aircraft mechanics and other personnel at American Airlines, marking the end to what had become a bitter fight between unions. Their battle to wrest control from the Transport Workers Union was marred by accusations of forged signatures and misrepresentations on both sides, and the strange distribution of airplane vomit bags to make a point.
The Teamsters cited the recent announcement that the Justice Department will fight a proposed merger between American Airlines and US Airways as their reason for dropping the battle. But the announcement comes just a few days after the union lost an election to represent 5,000 mechanics at US Airways in another divisive battle.
"American Airlines' emergence from bankruptcy has been cast into doubt and the union has determined that the continued conflict between labor organizations is not in the best interest of the workers," Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell said in a statement. "This is not a time for workers to fight among themselves."
As national membership has dwindled, fights between labor unions have intensified as they vie for a shrinking number of members, and the dues that come with them. One Transport Workers local in Tulsa whose members the Teamsters were trying to recruit, for example, collected $2.3 million in dues last year.
Some in labor have criticized the Teamsters for spending money to recruit workers who already belong to a union, rather than the millions of unorganized workers in the U.S.
The Transport Workers Union had also accused the Teamsters of forging signatures, an allegation the National Mediation Board was investigating, delaying the election. The Transport Workers didn't seem ready to kiss and make up Friday. In a statement about the Teamsters' decision to withdraw, Donald M. Videtich, a Transport Workers Union representative, wrote that the "The TWU has maintained the IBT's filing was flawed and should not be moved onto a vote by the NMB. The IBT's decision to withdraw is a strong signal the work done by the TWU and the position we took was correct."
The Transport Workers are now focusing their efforts on making the American Airlines-US Airways merger happen. The union is asking members to push U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder to drop the Justice Department lawsuit against the merger.
"The Department of Justice through its legal maneuvers is trying to create a duopoly where United and Delta would dominate commercial aviation in the United States and other carriers would be kept at a competitive disadvantage or relegated to being niche players," Transport Workers chief Gary Drummond said this week.
That may be one point on which the Teamsters agree. In the Teamsters statement today, a spokesman said the government attempt to stop the merger "places the workers at American Airlines in significant turmoil."