Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Joys Of Flying


Insider Faces Outsider in American Flight Attendants Union Election

Two veteran flight attendants are vying to succeed Laura Glading as president of the union that represents American Airlines flight attendants. The campaign seems cordial. What separates the candidates is that one has 15 years of union leadership and is considered a union insider. The other, with three years as president of a small, now-closed base, cherishes his role as an outsider.
Insider Patrick Hancock, 59, is based in Dallas. For six years, he has been national retirement specialist for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. He previously served on two negotiating teams and twice was national strike coordinator.

Hancock has spent about half of his 31 years as a flight attendant in union jobs.
Outsider Bob Ross, 56, said he enjoys flying. His only union leadership experience came during three years as president of the San Francisco base of flight attendants. His term ended when the base closed in 2011.

In the January election, with 20,656 eligible voters, 45% or 9,355 members voted. Ross led with 34% of the votes; Hancock got 19%. Now the two top candidates are in a runoff election.

A major event in the campaign occurs Thursday, when the two candidates will debate in Dallas.
Ross likes being an outsider. "I'm 'Joe the Plumber,'" he said. "I'm 'Joe Flight Attendant.' I've got the experience to do this, but I'm still a flight attendant. I think that is where my popularity is coming from."

"I'm running because I think I have what it takes to reform this union," he said. "It's splintered in many different ways. I think I can unify [it]. Trust and transparency is hugely important to me -- that's something that's been lacking in our union for some time."

While Hancock has a ticket that includes Nicole Darak of Charlotte for secretary and Craig Gunter of Philadelphia as treasurer, Ross is on his own. He viewed that as a sign of his independence, but Hancock said it would make for a rough start if Ross wins. "We are ready to walk in day one and start working," Hancock said.

"I differ from my opponent [in that] I have a lot more experience," said Hancock. "I know in this environment, experience is a bad word -- you have to clean house. But there is a learning curve for some of these jobs."

Still, the two men said they like each other. Ross, if he wins, would have Hancock remain as national retirement specialist. "Patrick is an APFA staple," Ross said. "He's been there a long time. He's a class act."

Hancock said Ross lacks experience beyond three years leading the relatively small San Francisco base. But he noted, "I don't have anything bad to say about Bob."

The winner has big shoes to fill. Glading led APFA for nearly eight years. Some call her a labor hero, some call her a traitor. But Glading helped members. She was instrumental in enabling the 2013 merger between American and US Airways, which led to a better contract. She also grew close to management.
Glading stepped down in October, forced out by the union's board even though her term was about to end. An interim president is now in charge. Glading's shadow hangs over the race. Both Hancock and Ross independently used the same word -- "brilliant" -- to describe her, although both also distance themselves from her.

"I think her vision was to help build American into what it is today," Ross said. "It is the largest airline and she helped to accomplish that. But she had the interest of management more than the financial interest of the members, and she set up the parameters for the contract to go to arbitration, so we were going to get that contract no matter what."

Ross called Hancock "a Laura loyalist," while Hancock said he has worked with a half dozen APFA presidents since 1986. He has had disagreements with all of them, including Glading, but said, "I believe work is more important than politics."

Glading "made a lot of personal sacrifices for her eight years [but] because she worked so closely with the management team, it caused her to drift from where the membership was," Hancock said.
Both candidates object to the "Hard 40," a provision that was in the US Airways contract that requires flight attendants to work at least 40 hours a month if they want to continue health care and other benefits. The provision is currently slated to be extended to legacy American flight attendants when the contract is fully implemented.

Ross is based in Los Angeles. Before becoming a flight attendant in 1983, he was an Air Force mechanic. When he was president of the San Francisco base, his wife was vice president. The couple also worked together as realtors, but in 2014 she retired as a flight attendant and he left the real estate business.

Hancock, based in Dallas, joined American in 1984. He was one of the first flight attendants to work under the flight attendant B scale. Later, he was on the team that negotiated the end of the B scale. He earned a law degree from Texas Wesleyan and now has a second job as a will and probate attorney.