Unionized flight attendants of American Airlines Inc. — embroiled in a protracted contract dispute with their Dallas-based employer — introduced a new tactic Wednesday when they picketed the headquarters of Republic Bank Corp., which shares two board directors with the board of AMR Corp., parent company of the airline.
Ray Rogers and Crystal Lee Sutton leading a demonstration of flight attendants
The protest, which attracted about 300 flight attendants and supporters, came shortly after the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and AMR agreed to a 48-hour blackout period beginning midnight Wednesday. The blackout will bar union members and corporate officials from public comment on their negotiations.
"We think it's absolutely deplorable that the union is engaging in activities like this when they could be sitting at the negotiating table," said Al Becker, an AMR spokesman. "You don't reach agreements marching on the streets of Dallas."
Republic Bank officials said they would not comment on the protest because the dispute does not involve their institution.
The president of the APFA said the latest tactic is designed to bring pressure upon corporate relatives of AMR in hope they can influence negotiations between the two parties.
"Our two new target groups are Republic Bank and Equitable Life Insurance Co.," said Patt A. Gibbs, president of the 10,000-member union. "They share a board of directors with American Airlines."
Robert Crandall, chairman and president of AMR Corp., and AMR board member Charles Pistor also are members of the bank-holding company's board (Pistor is chairman and chief executive officer of RepublicBank Dallas). AMR board member Francis Burr also is a member of the Equitable board, Gibbs pointed out.
Gibbs said Equitable will be picketed in the future if an agreement is not reached.
The 48-hour blackout, which will bar flight attendants for two days from demonstrating and distributing leaflets, was ordered by officials of the National Mediation Board, who arrived Wednesday in Dallas to help the parties reach a new labor agreement before their federally mandated 30-day cooling-off period expires midnight Friday. Contract negotiations broke off last month, primarily because the union objected to pay scales.
"At midnight tonight (Wednesday), we will go into a blackout period," Gibbs told APFA members. "We have pledged our good-faith effort to turn the other cheek and try to get a good-faith agreement with American Airlines."
Flight attendants want to return to a single wage scale and abolish the airline's two-tiered wage system that was initiated four years ago. American has offered a multitiered wage system that would allow lower salaries for new employees.
Becker said American will impose work rule changes — but not wage increases — of the new contract proposal on its flight attendants beginning Friday if a new agreement is not reached by then.
A federal judge in Fort Worth is scheduled May 11 to rule on whether the airline can force only the work rule changes of the new contract on the flight attendants.
The demonstration at Republic Bank wrapped up an afternoon of rallying by American flight attendants.
Earlier Wednesday afternoon, union members and supporters met at the Dallas Convention Center where they heard speeches from Gibbs and officials of other unions.
They also heard from Crystal Lee Sutton, the worker at J.P. Stevens & Co. whose struggle to organize its workers was chronicled in the movie Norma Rae.
"Textile workers and airline workers have something in common," Sutton said. "In our unity lies our strength. Your fight ... is important to workers everywhere."