Why Compass Airlines Needed a Union – One Flight Attendants Perspective
The following is an open letter that was written by a Compass Flight Attendant for other Compass Flight Attendants to consider during our initial organizing efforts. The arguments put forth are just as valid today for any employee looking for a voice in their careers.
Maybe my personal experience as a union member of almost 40 years in a different industry can shed some perspective on a union’s value. All of you have to consider whether you think a union would benefit your careers.
Many of our flight attendants have never had union representation so they might approach the question with little or no perspective as to the benefits or protections that are gained. For everyone that has ever worked as a nonunion employee in an industry that has unions, keep in mind that you have directly benefited by those unions. Wages were higher and some benefits were offered because most companies do not want to open the door to unions if they can help it.
I worked in an industry that required me to be in a union from my first day. I did not think much about it because when I started I was making quite a bit more money than my peers in similar industries that were not unionized. As the years went on I realized it was not just the money and benefits that profited me and my family the most. It was also the work rules that had been negotiated between the company and the union.
- We had rules spelled out regarding sick calls and how chronic absenteeism would be handled in defined terms. The grey area of defining something as ‘excessive’ was replaced with a point system. If you called in sick once you earned a point. Call in a second time, a second point was earned. At 3 points you were spoken At 4 you were suspended for 3 days. A fifth point and you could be terminated. To counteract the points you could eliminate a point from your record by having perfect attendance for a month. Two months perfect attendance and you eliminated a second point. Needless to say, unjust or questionable dismissals were addressed in the contracts terms.
- As our industry consolidated we had contractual rules requiring the new ownership groups to offer employment to any effected workers first (scope), before going outside for hiring. This directly protected my job and allowed me to complete my required years for a ‘30 years and out’ pension after my company was bought by a larger competitor.
- We had negotiated rules defining the length of time that an individual was on probation after they were hired. For us it was 30 days. Once probation ended, you were a member of the union with its protections and full benefits.
- We had a negotiated defined benefit pension plan that was created for the members with no cost to us. For every year we worked we increased our pension that we could collect at retirement age. We also had the option of funding our own 401K if we chose to enhance our retirement funds.
- We had fully paid medical and dental plans, as well as a small paid life insurance policy.
- There certainly were more benefits that could be mentioned such as paid holidays, overtime pay rules, enhanced vacations, scheduling protections, etc. that were all a result of our series of negotiated
Could similar benefits to what I received as a union employee come about right away for us at Compass? Probably not. That will take time and multiple contracts. However, please ask yourself: Will any of them come about without union representation? Probably not.
Some flight attendants still hope that discussions internally with management can resolve all of our issues and create a more secure work environment. Historically, that is far from the case at Compass.
Some flight attendants only speak in terms of having to spend some money each month on dues but do not recognize that the benefits that they gain by having a contract far outweigh the dues amount. Both financially and in terms of job rules and protections.
Some flight attendants have a bias against unions that they have been brought up with, so they do not recognize it as an ally for resolving what they personally might be most upset about with their job or financial situation.
To all of them I say: It is important to keep in mind that any management group is in place at the discretion of the airlines ownership. Ownership calls the shots from upstairs at any airline. The Compass management team has to follow our parent company’s directives or they will be replaced by people who will.
If you are still not convinced that a union is right for you, ask how you stand in wages, benefits and job security when you compare yourself to other regional carriers.
AFA provides flight attendants with the vehicle that will get their voices heard and address the flight attendant’s needs. Is that something you would want to have as well? Without a voice: Are improvements in pay, benefits and contract language to quality of life something that you are confident would come about otherwise?
Thank you for your time.