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Association of Flight Attendants-CWA United Master Executive Council

Seniority Merger Integration Questions

Date: March 16, 2015
Type: AFA Article

Recently our AFA International President, Sara Nelson, published a video introducing the Seniority Merge Integration process of our Union and U.S. law.  In recent days, we have heard from members seeking to restore pre-merger seniority adjustments as a result of events such as involuntary furloughs, company transfers, seniority integration decisions and lawsuits resulting from pre-merger United’s discriminatory policy toward married female Flight Attendants. AFA recognized over two decades ago that the union must have clear seniority integration rules that provide the fairest possible seniority integration standards, and put in place a policy for seniority integration moving forward.

We appreciate the advocacy of our flying partners as well as the efforts to promote unity in support of negotiations and the best possible working conditions for Flight Attendants. While your Union leadership understands and empathizes with the desire to adjust seniority retrospectively to align with current policy, it is not legally possible to do so.

AFA General Counsel, Ed Gilmartin, has reviewed the suggestions to make changes to adjust seniority retrospectively and has rendered the following legal opinion, which reads, in part, 

“The AFA-CWA Seniority integration process is detailed in Section X of the AFA-CWA Constitution and Bylaws Policy Manual. The policy is also enforced by U.S. law and the union is required to adhere to the provisions of the policy. Seniority integration is protected as a fundamental right for AFA members, based on the principle of “date-of-hire” Flight Attendant bidding seniority integration. The policy provides for one potential adjustment related to credit for time in initial Flight Attendant training, but does not allow for any other adjustments to bidding seniority dates as of the time of the merger.

“As a result of the UAL/CAL/CMI merger, AFA is bound by Policy Manual Section X of the AFA Constitution & Bylaws, which sets forth the process for seniority integration following the merger of two or more AFA carriers.  As Section X.C.2 (a) makes clear, a Flight Attendant’s seniority date as of the date of the merger agreement between the affected airlines will be the seniority date for purposes of merging the respective seniority lists. In pertinent part that Section states: 

“Note: It is the intent of this policy that the “seniority date” of a flight attendant shall be the date from which each flight attendant accrues competitive (bidding) seniority as a flight attendant as of the date of the merger agreement between the affected airlines.  It is recognized that this seniority date may be different than the flight attendant’s initial training date or may have been adjusted for various reasons since the original date on which the flight attendant began to accrue seniority on or after     initial   training date; in such cases, the “seniority date” is not to be changed back to the original date on which that flight attendant began to accrue seniority.(Emphasis  added).

“In other words, while the AFA C&B recognizes that a Flight Attendant’s original seniority date may have been changed due to furloughs, leaves or other reasons, for purposes of seniority integration following the merger of two or more AFA carriers, the seniority date as of the date of the merger will be the date used to combine the Flight Attendant groups.  The seniority integration process cannot be used to change that seniority date back to the original date.

“Though there have been adjustments to a Flight Attendant’s seniority date at s-UA, those adjustments were the result of either an arbitration following the purchase of Pan Am routes, or a lawsuit filed over [pre-merger United’s] discriminatory conduct toward married female Flight Attendants.  After United purchased routes from a bankrupt Pan Am and hired some former Pan Am Flight Attendants, a seniority integration arbitration was conducted because AFA had not yet established the merger policy set forth in Section X.  An arbitrator awarded the former Pan Am Flight Attendants adjusted seniority dates that only partially recognized their accrued service at Pan Am.  In the McDonald lawsuit over s-UA’s treatment of female married Flight Attendants, the federal court eventually restored the seniority of those Flight Attendants who lost their jobs due to s-UA’s discriminatory conduct that violated federal law.

“Specific requests for adjustments related to furlough are also precipitated by the recent involuntary furlough of 111 [pre-merger United] Flight Attendants in April, 2014.  Prior to that involuntary furlough, which AFA strongly objected to, AFA negotiated a Letter of Agreement with the Company that provided certain protections to those who were involuntarily furloughed – including the right to retain and accrue seniority for all purposes while on involuntary furlough. As you know, it is AFA’s position that because those 111 Flight Attendants were involuntarily furloughed in violation of the Letter of Agreement in the current AFA-UAL CBA, p. 305, titled “Protection Against Involuntary Furlough,” those 111 Flight Attendants must retain their original Inflight Seniority dates. In fact, AFA has a pending grievance challenging their involuntary furlough. The involuntary furloughs that took place prior to the recent merger, on the other hand, did not violate the CBA in effect at that time, and therefore they could not be challenged by AFA.”

In addition, there have been a number of questions about when the merged seniority list becomes effective.  Keep in mind, that any merged seniority list becomes effective once we have a ratified agreement.  This is made clear in the seniority integration video from our AFA International President, as quoted from our Constitution and Bylaws.

Our careers have been marked by a tumultuous industry, the only constant of which is change. Flight Attendants have been affected along the way. Our job is to minimize the impact and do everything possible to define our future rather than having it defined for us. Challenges in this new era of consolidation abound.  Over two decades ago our Union took bold steps to enshrine “date of hire” – bidding classification seniority in our Constitution and Bylaws in an effort to strip away one of the most common tools management uses as a wedge to divide us.  Our policy is widely recognized as the fairest method of seniority integration. We would all like to fix the past, but that is not possible. We learned from past experience and took action to change our policy. We can only apply the policy moving forward. 

While the future holds some level of uncertainty, it is important to recognize that Flight Attendants who have gone through this ahead of us tell us that the benefits of a combined, seamless route structure – one airline – provide new opportunities and the concerns expressed in advance are generally diminished with actual experience. We must continue to focus on that which brings us together and avoid distractions which, by design, seek to create division. As Flight Attendants, we have more in common than that which could ever divide us.  Together is the best path forward for our future.

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