Reservationists, gate agents and customer relations employees at American Airlines have been trying to unionize for about a year. With its bankruptcy, the airline has delayed a vote on whether the employees can unionize. Pilots, flight attendants and mechanics already belong to unions.
A vote on the service agents’ union is now scheduled for Dec. 4. Although American tried to block the vote, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cleared the way today for about 10,000 American employees to decide whether to unionize.
While mostly a labor issue, the national LGBT group Pride At Work is concerned whether LGBT employees’ benefits would be among the first cut if service agents are not allowed to unionize. In states like Texas where employees have no protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a union contract can include those protections.
American Airlines has received a perfect 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for the last 11 years.
In a Huffington Post, Pride at Work Executive Director Peggy Shorey acknowledges American’s exemplary track record on LGBT issues. That record dates to 1993, when Dallas Voice and This Week in Texas broke the story that on flights returning from the March on Washington, gay and lesbian passengers were harassed. On one flight, a memo reading “Pilot requests full change of pillows and blankets due to gay rights activists on board” was sent to ground control. A hard copy was passed to the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance by the gay AA employee who received the message.
But after that incident, the airline changed its policies, instituted HIV training for all employees with the help of Resource Center Dallas and opened the first marketing office in the airline industry targeting the LGBT community. The airline began adding nondiscrimination protections for its passengers and employees and later added partner benefits.
American Airlines is a company that has historically had a good track record on both LGBT issues and labor. The rest of the American Airlines workforce — about 90,000 employees — already have union contracts. American Airlines also has a long track record of supporting LGBT nonprofits and showing public commitment to equality.
However, the company’s actions in the last year are counter to all the good will they’ve earned in our community. They are taking every step they can to block these workers’ from simply allowing them to vote “yes” or “no” on joining a union.
Pride at Work also signed a joint open letter with National Stonewall Democrats and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force calling for American Airlines to allow the employees to vote on whether to unionize. Shorey’s HuffPo article quotes people like gay Dallas-based American Airlines employee Steve Langhi, who says that without a union, the company’s LGBT employees could be vulnerable.
In response to the LGBT groups’ concerns, American Airlines issued the following statement to Dallas Voice:
American’s court challenge on behalf of its customer care agents and representatives involves a specific question of the applicability of federal election law under the Railway Labor Act. This legal question is entirely unrelated to LGBT concerns.
American is also complying fully with the National Mediation Board in the scheduled union representation election even as the legal case moves forward. While the company is undergoing its own court-supervised restructuring, this is the right path for all parties.
There is no question whatsoever that American Airlines stands out among all U.S. corporations for its long record of support for LGBT equality for our workplace and workforce policies, and is the only airline — and one of a handful of companies — that has earned the highest score possible on the Corporate Equality Index for 11 consecutive years. This achievement is testament to American’s fairness and respect for all LGBT employees. American Airlines is also especially proud to be the nation’s first airline to include LGBT owned businesses in its supplier diversity chain.
Moreover, American Airlines is one of the few corporations that also advocates publicly for fair-minded federal laws that mirror our own business practices, including being the first airline to endorse the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the first airline to endorse tax equity for domestic partner benefits, and the first airline to endorse equal treatment for unmarried bi-national same-sex couples. In addition, two years ago, American Airlines was the only company that accepted an invitation from then-Representative Tammy Baldwin to testify before Congress in support of domestic partner benefits for federal employees.
Bil Browning from the blog The Bilerico Project wondered how much money American Airlines has spent with Human Right Campaign over the years after receiving an email from HRC urging supporters to buy tickets from the airline a day after the union controversy broke in the media.
Bob Witeck, a spokesman representing American Airlines, said it wasn’t really possible to total the value of donations by American to HRC because most of the airlines’ support was in-kind donations of airline tickets. The value of the donation would depend on what route was flown and when. American does not track how the tickets are used.