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Unions Vie To Organize USAir Cargo Workers - Again

January 26, 1994

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Three unions are vying to represent about 8,000 USAir workers in the fourth attempt at organizing the cargo crews during the last four years.

The United Steelworkers of America, Teamsters and International Association of Machinists plan to file election petitions with the National Mediation Board in Washington on Friday.

The USWA, which says more than 60 percent of the fleet service workers signed union cards, also plans to rally Thursday at Pittsburgh International Airport and 24 other airports.

The Teamsters have scheduled a telephone news conference for Thursday about their campaign.

Three attempts in 1990 and 1992 failed to organize the employees, who handle cargo, baggage and catering.

Union representatives and some employees said they expect this effort to work, mostly because of benefit changes made by the Arlington, Va.-based airline.

″The people have been butchered,″ Ray Abernathy, a Teamsters spokesman, said Wednesday. ″They’re angry and demoralized and ready to strike back.″

USAir changed nonunion workers’ benefits at the first of the year, substituting a system that offered sick days, personal days and vacation days with a ″block″ program that gives workers a certain number of paid days off per year.

″We’ve lost holidays, sick times, vacations,″ said John Aulicino Jr., who supervises a Pittsburgh baggage crew. ″There’s constant worry that this is coming, that’s coming. It’s just hanging over our heads.″

USAir spokesman David Shipley acknowledged there have been complaints about the new benefits program, which he said was instituted to head off abuse of sick leave.

″It’s not a popular thing, but when all companies are looking for ways to reduce expenses, this is a decision USAir has made to control its benefits costs,″ he said.

The workers have not belonged to a union since 1990, when the Teamsters, who had represented them since 1981, lost two elections.

Fewer ballots than necessary were cast in an August 1992 election in which the Steelworkers and Machinists sought to represent the workers.

The unions filing petitions must present authorization cards signed by at least 35 percent of eligible workers. Once a mediator has investigated the case, an election is held to determine which union will represent the workers.

A majority of eligible workers must cast ballots for an election to be valid. Aulicino said the drive for representation is stronger than he has ever seen it.

″I’m on my knees praying every day, and I’m on my feet working every day,″ he said.

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