NWA Flight Attendants Vote to Switch Unions

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Northwest Airlines flight attendants voted to switch unions on Thursday, just as talks with the airline enter what could be their final days.

The Professional Flight Attendants Association said its members voted to drop it so they can join the Association of Flight Attendants-Communication Workers of America, the nation's largest flight attendant union.

PFAA spokeswoman Karen Schultz said the vote was 62 percent for the AFA to 38 percent for the current union, the PFAA. She said 7,017 votes were cast.

National Mediation Board rules call for it to certify the winning union within one business day. Talks with Northwest had been scheduled for Friday, although it wasn't immediately clear whether the union vote would change that.

Northwest said it looks forward to working with the AFA and that it would meet with the new union "in the near future to determine how and when bargaining will proceed."

PFAA president Guy Meek promised to help the transition to the new union.

"While we are disappointed by today's results, now is not the time for anger or division," Meek said in a hot line message to members. "We must unite behind our new union, and together march forward to make certain that our careers at Northwest Airlines remain safe and secure."

The AFA touted its negotiation experience in persuading Northwest flight attendants to join.

"For the first time in a long while, our sisters and brothers at Northwest have hope," said a statement from AFA-CWA International President Patricia Friend. "They are hopeful that with AFA-CWAs wealth of experience in negotiating with airlines in bankruptcy, their careers will be protected."

The vote essentially means the end of the PFAA, which Northwest cabin workers created after they voted out the Teamsters in 2003. Discontent has been building at PFAA, with some members refusing to pay back dues, and some leading the effort to join the AFA.

The vote comes at a crucial moment in flight attendant talks with Northwest, which wants to cut $195 million in flight attendant costs as it restructures in bankruptcy court. Flight attendants are the last holdouts among its union workers.

After 80 percent of flight attendants rejected a tentative agreement last month, bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper in New York told Northwest it could impose the rejected contract on July 17. The PFAA has said it reserves the right to strike if that happens, and the AFA has also said it may strike. Northwest has said a strike would be illegal and that it would seek a court order to block one.

The AFA has said it is prepared to step into negotiations right away.

Flight attendants had been scheduled to finish voting later on Thursday on whether to affiliate the PFAA with the Transport Workers Union, but that vote was made moot by the union switch.