ALPA vs. TRANSAMERICA AIRLINES: 1984-85
'Investment Through Assessment Was Well Worth It.'
They Say "Give Back"
We Say "Fight Back"
"Corporate Campaign gave us two more years on our jobs." That's how one Transamerica pilot, who went on to fly for American Airlines, described the results of CCI's efforts on behalf of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) Transamerica Airlines MEC, representing 320 pilots.
San Francisco-based Transamerica Corp., which owned the airline, was a $12 billion multinational conglomerate involved in insurance, finance, manufacturing and transportation. Transamerica crews transported charter passenger groups and cargo across the United States to Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. Because the airline did not operate on regular scheduling, crew members were never sure how long they would be flying or be away from their families. They often suffered from acute jet lag and fatigue resulting from days of trying to make their bodies work and sleep on command after crossing numerous time zones.
Crew members faced constant dangers and health risks as they flew in relief supplies to developing countries. Besides contracting malaria, dysentery, scabies and bronchitis, crews found themselves surrounded by armed troops and threatened by military and political officials. Some had their planes shot at. One plane was destroyed and pilot Bill Read, who left behind a wife and family, was killed by rebel guerillas in Angola.
These and other serious issues were well-documented in a 16-page publication, "Hard Traveling: Life and Work at Transamerica Airlines" produced by CCI journalists Hardy Green and Peggy Moberg.
Cover of special Campaign report
While the crews put up with all of this, Transamerica tried to impose even greater burdens on them. Management demanded wage cuts of up to 60%, huge reductions in benefits and radical modifications in work rules. It set up a "brand new" non-union subsidiary called Transinternational Airlines and threatened to take away union workers' jobs altogether if they did not go along. All of this was happening in spite of the fact that the airline was very profitable, its future was very bright and the stockholders and top officials of Transamerica Corp. and the airline were enjoying large financial rewards. 1984 was Transamerica's 23rd consecutive year of dividend increases.
Transamerica CEO James Harvey, who also served on the airline's board, summed up his labor policy by stating, "Maintaining a non-union workplace is not just a goal ... it is a by-product of effective management."
After completing extensive research and intelligence-gathering for the ALPA Transamerica MEC in the fall of 1984, CCI made a series of presentations that led to 88% of Transamerica pilots voting to assess themselves to hire CCI. Before publicly announcing CCI's hiring in February 1985, Transamerica pilots had already been locked into a bitter labor dispute for 18 months.
CCI immediately helped forge a three-union coalition known as the Transamerica Coalition for Bargaining Strength (TCBS) which included ALPA, the Association of Flight Attendants and the Teamsters (representing flight engineers). Together, the three groups represented 709 Transamerica employees. The campaign produced a detailed report "TROUBLE AT TRANSAMERICA: WE CAN STOP IT!" This report was a call to action and began with a statement from the Transamerica Air Line Pilots Assn. MEC, the Assn. of Flight Attendants MEC and the Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters Airline Division. They began the statement: "For some time now, we have watched Transamerica Corporation's top officials adopt a more hostile and antagonistic stance toward its airline unions than ever before. Management has moved aggressively to undermine the unions, divide them from each other and make employees subsidize extravagance in the executive suites through one-sided concessions and cutbacks. This has forced us to launch a Corporate Campaign program..."
Cover of special Campaign report
CCI was able to empower this small group of airline employees and help them take the offensive by developing a broad campaign of public outreach and protest activity which expanded the issues, the targets and their base of support. The issues raised, other than union busting and corporate greed, included corporate tax avoidance (Transamerica paid no federal income taxes from 1981-84 on $749 million in profits); charging usurious interest rates to low-income borrowers through its Transamerica Financial Services, and producing faulty diesel generators at its Transamerica Delaval subsidiary which, because of serious problems in design, manufacture and quality control, were cited as major risk factors in the safety of nuclear power plants across the country.
Activities included a massive postcard and letter-writing campaign and protests at Transamerica's annual meeting and that of Los Angeles-based First Interstate Bancorp (which provided credit to, held 5.5% of the stock in, and shared two directors with Transamerica). The campaign also organized demonstrations at Transamerica Corp. headquarters and drew Transamerica's other properties into the conflict, mainly Budget Rent-A-Car and Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance, which managed hundreds of millions of dollars in labor union pension funds and provided many unions with group life and medical insurance plans.
At one demonstration in front of Transamerica headquarters, California AFL-CIO Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Henning declared, "Pull out the billions and they'll not only bargain with you, they'll come to you on their knees and ask for a contract." In a newsletter, MEC Secretary-Treasurer Thomas McGarry quoted one letter sent to Transamerica's CEO by the secretary of the Monterey Culinary Insurance and Pension Funds, who wrote: "...We do close to $8 million worth of business with Transamerica-Occidental. Very shortly our contract for pension renewals with T/O will expire. My decision, as well as the decisions of the other union trustees, as to (renewing)... the contract will depend on the position you have taken towards your pilots, flight engineers and flight attendants."
CCI produced leaflet
Also singled out as a campaign target was Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, a member of the Transamerica Corp. board of directors. Ueberroth, it was reported, became enraged when 50,000 protest leaflets ("Ueberroth — Play Fair Ball with Transamerica Airlines Employees") were handed out to fans attending a Minnesota Twins baseball game. CCI assembled a large contingent of Austin, MN meatpackers, who were battling Hormel at the time, to join pilots so that every entrance to parking lots and into the ballpark was covered. Attached to the pilots' leaflet was another one directed at baseball fans from the Hormel strikers. Pilot supporters also handed out thousands of leaflets to people entering and passing by the building on Park Avenue in New York City containing Ueberroth's offices.
Another pilot summed up his feelings: "Under the most difficult circumstances, our small group, with Corporate Campaign's help, has put up one hell of a fight. It's prolonged the existence of our airline and our jobs. Corporate Campaign taught us a lot. Our investment through assessment was well worth it."