April 2, 2009: The Airline Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters says it has removed one of its locals from bargaining with a small Massachusetts-based carrier because of “unacceptably substandard representation.”
In an unusual move, the international issued a press release March 27 in which Airline Director David Bourne said that he is replacing Teamsters Local 747 as the bargaining agent for pilots employed by Cape Air, Inc., who are now in mediation. The division will take over representation directly and decide later on assignment to another local, he said.
But officials from Local 747 responded with a flurry of letters contending that the local is not the bargaining representative of the Cape Air pilots, defending their conduct, and urging IBT President James P. Hoffa to retract the press release.
A spokeswoman for Cape Air said that negotiations for a first contract to cover approximately 120 active pilots have been continuing for some time. She declined to comment on the union dispute. Cape Air, based in Hyannis, Mass., says it is the largest independent regional airline in the country, serving Cape Cod, New York state, the mid-Atlantic, the Florida Keys, the Caribbean, and Micronesia. Cape Air pilots voted for IBT representation in 2006.
Bourne, the director of the Airline Division, told BNA April 1 that he removed Local 747 in response to complaints from Cape Air pilots that they were “not getting the representation they needed.” An election to replace IBT with the independent Cape Air Pilots Association is scheduled for later this month, Bourne said, and pilots at other carriers are seeking to leave the union because of poor service from Local 747.
Pilots at Great Lakes Aviation are now voting on whether to replace Local 747, and decertification drives at “three or four” other carriers are under way, Bourne said. Local 747 represents about 5,000 pilots at 12 airlines, according to the local. According to the National Mediation Board Web site, ballots cast by pilots at Great Lakes on representation by IBT or the United Transportation Union will be counted April 8.
Local 747 President and General Counsel E.E. Sowell called the press release “a fabricated attempt to undermine the local.” In a March 29 letter to Hoffa, he said that the local “does not now, nor have we ever, represented the pilots of Cape Air, Inc.”
Sowell explained that the former Airline Division Director Don Treichler had agreed to continue as chief bargainer after his replacement by Bourne last year and that Local 747 had agreed to fund the negotiations until a first contract was settled, at which time the pilots would become part of Local 747.
Local 747 had refused to accept the Cape Air pilots because it could not afford to adhere to a policy of not collecting dues until a first contract was reached, Sowell said.
A spokeswoman for the local, Ashley B. Marsh, said April 1 that pilots at Cape Air were dissatisfied because the IBT Airline Division “dropped the ball” in negotiations. “They were never under our umbrella,” she said.
The decertification petition at Great Lakes stems from a takeover of an airline where pilots were represented by the UTU, which is seeking bargaining rights at the successor carrier, Marsh said. Local 747 is not aware of dissatisfaction at any other airline, and “we have been receiving letters of support” from pilots since the dispute became public, she said.
Several other Local 747 officials also wrote to the international, questioning why the airline division would publicly attack a local and arguing that an airing of the dispute would strengthen union opponents.
But Bourne said “it doesn't help anybody” to keep the controversy secret and that it was important to let pilots and airlines know that the international is working to address complaints.
By Rick Valliere