A union busting legal firm, Seham Seham Meltz & Petersen, is working to undercut workers through divisive tactics and raiding the membership of United Association of Flight Attendants members.
Union busting is nothing new. For over a hundred years employers have fought against unionizing efforts and worked to break unions after they win an election.
They use fear and intimidation to push people against forming a union. After a union is elected they hold up negotiations, even sending out false information to workers, in an effort to splinter union support.
Like I said, this is nothing new. We have seen these tactics in action for decades. Now we are seeing a new type of union busting, where the employer encourages workers to form a new union to replace the current union. Yes, you read that right, the employer works with a “union” to raid the membership of an existing union to gain enough support to have the existing union de-certified, thereby loosing all of the gains made from previous contracts.
This tactic is very sneaky and very hard to pull off, but it has worked in the past for one specific law firm, Seham Seham Meltz & Petersen (SSM&P). The conditions have to be just right to make this work. There must be a certain level of discontent within the exiting union and this usually happens as contract negotiations fail. The “company union” then organizes the discontent workers into forming a new union to replace the exiting union.
A Long History of Pro-Company Union Organizing
Over the last forty years members of the law firm of SSM&P have been forming these new unions, mostly during times of chaos like massive mergers or labor strife.
EL AL Israel Airlines – Boeing 767-3Y0(ER) – Tel Aviv Ben Gurion – 4X-EAP
In 1983, Martin Seham, working for El Al Airlines, attempted to break the International Association of Machinists union that was in long and bitter contract negotiation that ultimately resulted in a 28-month strike.
“During the strike, some of the clerical workers decertified IAM in favor of an independent union. Management imposed severely concessionary terms and recruited scabs as replacement workers,” wrote Captain DD, who has done extensive research on SSM&P when his union, the Airline Pilots Association, came under attack from a new SSM&P union. “Labor law firms advising management typically play very significant roles in developing these anti-union strategies. It is an undeniable fact that it occurred on SSM&P’s watch, and it occurred after that firm played a leading role in helping management to divide the rank-and-file and then crush its workers and the lAM at EI AI.”
In the early 1990s, Seham worked for Varig Airlines, a Brazilian air carrier, to once again undercut the Machinists union.
“This negotiation resulted in another strike. During these negotiations, management-with Seham as its advisor- insisted on removing all restrictions on its right to subcontract work and to remove the union security clause,” explained Captain DD. “The IAM understood that the notice was specifically designed to intimidate and coerce union members to resign their membership with the organization.”
In the decades that followed, SSM&P has been connected with new start up unions at Northwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Air, Delta, and other carriers that were already represented by unions.
SSM&P say they are fighting for workers and trying to form a new union. What they are really doing is pitting worker against worker to completely break the existing union, leaving all of the workers without any protections and without a voice.
The Northwest Suicide Strike
Seham Seham Meltz & Petersen are most well known for forming the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Organization (AMFA), who some have called the worst union in the country, specifically for their raids on other unions and complete lack of leadership.
While AMFA was attempting to organize mechanics at Northwest Airlines, who were already represented by the International Association of Machinists, “Northwest assisted AMFA by allowing [AMFA] access to company property and equipment and that AMFA supporters were allowed to campaign while on company time.”
Northwest most likely assisted AMFA because they knew that a new union would be easier to negotiate with than the IAM and would eliminate all of the previously negotiated agreements.
The AMFA did ultimately win the right to represent the 10,000 mechanics at Northwest Airlines and in turn de-certified the IAM.
Striking union mechanics Don Diedrich, left, and Bert Atienza are on picket duty outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, just after the vote result was announced. Both voted “no.” (MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)
In AMFA’s negotiations with Northwest, AMFA gave Northwest the ability to sub-contract work outside of the union. This resulted in nearly 8,000 good jobs being lost to outside contractors over the years that followed.
After 9/11, Northwest’s losses were piling up and they went to AMFA demanding concessions. AMFA refused to accept the concessions without holding a vote from the membership on Northwest’s “last best offer”. Then AMFA’s leadership took members out on strike, without holding a strike authorization vote, in what became known as the “suicide strike”.
Thousand of workers walked out in the strike. AMFA worked out a deal with Northwest for a “No Retribution, Retaliation or Harassment Due to Participation or Non-Participation in the Strike or Permanent Replacement Status.” In laymen’s terms, this let the scabs that crossed the strike line, keep their jobs and the rest of the unionized workers were laid off.
What union would ever agree to let scab workers keep their jobs while union members are being tossed aside? Any real, pro-worker union, not a company front group, would never have accepted these terms to allow scab workers to keep union member jobs.
Thanks to AMFA’s leadership the 10,000 mechanics at Northwest, were replaced by 500 scab workers.
After Northwest and Delta merged, “AMFA extinguished their certification with no fight at all.” This appears that they were never really in it for the workers.
Seham Seham Meltz & Petersen Strike Again With Another “New Union”
SSM&P are the legal team behind the United Flight Attendants Association, a new union trying to win representation rights from the Association of Flight Attendants (CWA-AFA), who currently represent United Airlines Flight Attendants.
AFA is currently deep in negotiations with United as their current contract is expiring and possible strikes are on the horizon. This situation is nearly identical to all of the other “new unions” formed by SSM&P to fracture the membership.
The newly formed UFAA is trying to get current AFA members to give up their membership and join with UFAA. If they gain enough support AFA would be ousted leaving SSM&P to negotiate on behalf of the workers. What could go wrong with that?
Sito Pantoja, General Vice President of the International Association of Machinists addressed this attempt to raid AFA’s membership without calling out UFAA by name. In an email to AFA members Pantoja clearly stated that IAM stands with CWA-AFA against this fake union.
“That is why I was extremely dismayed to hear that a few misguided individuals are trying to fracture your union. If they succeed, it will dismantle our successful partnership and all Flight Attendants will lose.”
“Your solidarity and bargaining strength is being undermined by an attempt to lure you away from AFA with promises from a union that does not even exist. This upstart has no finances, no structure, no resources and no experience. A website and a constitution written by a union-busting lawyer does not make a union.”
“The IAM has faced similar challenges from the same people directing this group, and each time airline workers lost…”
“…These divisive efforts surface only during contract negotiations, which cripples the Union bargaining committee and only benefits the company. When unionized workers sign an election authorization card to change unions they play right into the company’s divide and conquer strategy, making it much harder for your negotiators to attain the contract you have earned.”
“The Machinists Union strongly supports the AFA and looks forward to continuing and strengthening our partnership. I urge you to do the same and soundly reject any request to sign a card for this splinter group. Each card that is signed weakens your solidarity and position at the bargaining table.”
Do not be fooled by these union busting lawyers who are looking to steal your voice. They want you to sign a union authorization card, a legally binding document, to de-certify the AFA.
I do not have any proof that SSM&P are working for, or in collusion with, United Airlines but the parallels of their previous union busting actions are uncanny.
United flight attendants should beware that these union busting lawyers are behind this coup and their goal is to destroy the strength you have gained through years of negotiations, contracts and solidarity.