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American Agents Vote to Unionize

Until yesterday, there was just one employee group at American Airlines that was not represented by a union: customer-service workers, including reservations and airport agents.

On September 16, in what the union calls “the largest labor organizing victory in the South in decades,” 86 percent of American’s 14,500 agents voted to be represented by the Communications Workers of America-Teamsters Association. Negotiations between the union and management on a new contract will begin shortly.

The pro-union result reverses a previous vote, in January 2013, when workers narrowly rejected the CWA’s bid to represent them. What’s changed?

For one thing, the previous vote took place before American merged with US Airways, and American’s management fought long and hard to rebuff the union’s efforts.

This week’s vote finds US Airways executives, who have historically been more union-friendly, firmly in charge of American. So there was no management push-back to the union’s campaign.

But a swing from 51 percent opposed to 86 percent in favor can’t be accounted for solely by reference to the intensity of management’s engagement. Something must have changed radically between the two votes to drive such different outcomes.

It’s hard to avoid concluding that the customer-service workers’ distrust of management spiked following the merger. If that were not the case, then why the sudden surge in interest in having a stronger voice at the bargaining table?

That’s significant because, in a service industry, employee morale tends to correlate with customer-service levels. Happy workers treat their customers well; and the reverse.

American faces many hurdles in implementing the merger with US Airways. One of them, it seems, will be keeping its workers (and customers) happy.

Reader Reality Check

Have you seen any signs of low morale among American’s customer-service agents?

This article originally appeared on

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