Teamsters from across America gathered in Manhattan on Tuesday March 8th at the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation & Industrials Conference. The event was planned to attract investors to a variety of corporations, such as United Airlines. The meeting began at 8am with UAL scheduled first on the agenda and we were there early to greet the attendees to the conference in a special way.
We made plans and secured assignments the night before at our hotel across the street. Most picketed around the buildings entrances displaying large signs announcing the UAL Mechanics potential strike. Other teams held several 10 foot banners which exclaimed “No Contract - No Flights.” Along with the banners and picketers, several Teamsters were handing out leaflets explaining our cause to those potential investors who were entering the building. In a bold move, a small group even held ground inside the building in order to help spread the word to any who somehow slipped past the hundreds who gathered outside. If the flyers, signs, or chants were not enough to gain their attention, the 18 wheeler Teamster semi from Local 817 and bus from Joint Council 73 parked outside the glass wall of the building gave no doubt who was diverting attention from the conference participants.
All of this was designed to increase doubt among potential financiers thinking of investing with United Airlines. Threats of strike and organized employee conflict are not the message UAL intended to portray on this opening morning of the conference. The Teamsters would not be ignored.
Drawing on years of experience, your fellow Teamsters and leadership left nothing to chance. Highly respected civil rights attorney Norman Siegel was retained and on hand to protect our members when, as expected, the NYPD showed up in force. Norman held the police at bay and even successfully prevented those protesters inside the building from being ejected by private security guards who stood by helplessly. Personnel from the International, including well organized representatives from the Capital Strategies and Communications departments, were joined by Local Leaders to help coordinate and keep things running smoothly. We were given instructions by the International Representatives and Mr. Siegel the night before on what to do and what to expect and everything went according to plan.
Our protest was effective! In addition to embarrassing UAL at a time when they had hoped to attract investors, there was a last minute move by JP Morgan to repeal the Teamsters request to participate officially in the meetings. The IBT invests millions of dollars through JP Morgan and this miscalculation was not only an insult to the 1.4 million Teamsters, it was a discourtesy to a very large customer.
In a surprising coincidence, former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune made an announcement that he will lead an insurrection against United’s Board of Directors. Mr. Bethune places blame on the UAL Board of Directors for the negative direction of the company and the culture of disrespect to employees and customers. Our recent public protests against United at such a critical time will bolster his efforts to replace the current BOD with those who are more qualified to lead an airline. With Mr. Bethune at the helm, new leadership might understand the value of a dedicated, hardworking, and well compensated workforce.
Teamster Airline Mechanics representing Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle/Portland, Denver, Houston and Boston, as well as Washington DC, Cleveland, Orlando, New Jersey and New York Locals all participated in this rally. Non Airline Division Locals in the New York area and Joint Council 73 offered us tremendous support. We are planning more protests and will continue to put United’s poor decisions in the spotlight and on the headlines. Stay tuned for more information on our next events and how you can participate.