Jun 23, 2003
Flight attendants at Northwest Airlines (NWA) voted in mid-June to leave the Teamsters union and set up the Professional Flight Attendants Association. It's unusual because this union was newly created from within their own ranks.
NWA flight attendants have been represented by the Teamsters for 26 years. Leaders of the new union say they started it because they were dissatisfied with Teamsters for accepting too many cutbacks in recent contracts. About two thousand Northwest attendants are currently laid off.
Teamster officials also made no friends when they recently removed elected officials from a flight attendants' local in Minneapolis and appointed new officials over the heads of the membership.
Attendants who organized and voted in the new union have clearly chosen this way to try to make a stand against Northwest's concession demands. It's not easy to organize a new union. Putting in that amount of work is an indicator of the level of workers' discontent.
The flight attendants face many difficulties. Perhaps the first difficulty will be to not assume that things will now automatically get better.
Regardless of the name of the union, workers must become active in it, make it their own voice and their own instrument. If this sort of work continues, the flight attendants will discover that they need to strengthen themselves by engaging other workers in struggles to match their own – no matter what names are on the union doors, no matter what names are on company headquarters.