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Unions kiss and make up at the airport: Fisticuffs to handshakes

For anyone with a long memory (and it doesn't have to be that long), last week's partnership announcement from the Transport Workers Union and the International Association of Machinists was full of juicy irony. Does anyone remember the brawl between these two unions at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott on Feb. 8, 2006?

Unions kiss and make up at the airport: Fisticuffs to handshakes

American Airlines and US Airways jets prepare for flight at gate at the Philadelphia International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, in Philadelphia. The merger of US Airways and American Airlines has given birth to a mega airline with more passengers than any other in the world. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
American Airlines and US Airways jets prepare for flight at gate at the Philadelphia International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, in Philadelphia. The merger of US Airways and American Airlines has given birth to a mega airline with more passengers than any other in the world. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) ASSOCIATED PRESS

For anyone with a long memory (and it doesn't have to be that long), last week's partnership announcement from the Transport Workers Union and the International Association of Machinists was full of juicy irony. Does anyone remember the brawl between these two unions at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott on Feb. 8, 2006?

First, last week's news: The IAM and the TWU have created a partnership to represent nearly 30,000 ground mechanical and fleet service employees at the soon-to-be merged American Airlines and US Airways. The unions teamed up to combat a threat from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters has filed a petition to represent US Airways mechanics, now represented by the Machinists union. The Teamsters also announced plans to try to get the mechanics now represented by the TWU at American to switch to become Teamsters.

"An unprincipled raid," the TWU and IAM harrumphed.

Now for the brawl in 2006: Same situation, a merger of two airlines. Entirely different approach. US Airways was merging with America West. The Machinists represented US Airways workers; the TWU represented those at America West. When TWU organizers came to Philadelphia, one of US Airways main hubs, to hold an information session in the hopes that TWU could represent the soon-to-be combined workforce, the Machinists took umbrage in a grand style.

Robert Boland, then the president of IAM Local 1776, had a dozen union members take off from their airport duties on Feb. 8. According to court documents, they gathered at the Jazz & Java coffee shop at the airport and strolled over to the Marriott, entering through a breezeway. When they got there, Boland and two other union officials went into the conference room the TWU rented and delivered an expletive-laced message: "We own ... Philadelphia, this is our ... city and you guys are to get out," the documents said, quoting Boland. "We're going to go to breakfast and we're going to be gone for about half an hour, and when we come back you guys had better be cleared out... I can't be held responsible for what these men outside are about to do." 

Thirty minutes became about 30 seconds. A mob, about a dozen, entered the room and started throwing glasses and chairs. Fists flew next, court documents said.

The fight spread into the hotel's service corridors, with IAM members chasing TWU organizers who tried to flee the fracas. Police came. Arrests were made, 22 in all.

Over the years, two parallel cases made their way through the courts. Some of the men, including Boland, wound up being charged criminally in Philadelphia with aggravated assault, terroristic threats, conspiracy and simple assault. Ultimately, the charges were downgraded with those who remained in the case pleading guilty to simple assault. The men, including Boland, were sentenced to probation. After the incident, Boland was fired from US Airways, but remained president of Local 1776, although he isn't president now.

The TWU organizers, some of whom were badly injured, sued the men individually as well as Local 1776, plus the IAM in federal court in Philadelphia.  Eventually, the number of defendants in the case narrowed to Local 1176 and seven men, including Boland, and Anthony Armideo, also spelled Armedio. He had moved up in union ranks around the time of the incident.

On Oct. 24, 2010, a jury "returned a verdict for Plaintiffs and against Defendants," awarding the organizers a total of $811,993. Since then, there have been a variety of motions on both sides, but the basic result stands. 

That's the story: Hard to imagine that these two unions are now singing a duet!

“I am proud that our two great unions put the members first in a true demonstration of solidarity," said IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger said in the press release announcing the deal between the unions. “These agreements protect our members' representation, pensions and seniority. Working jointly with the TWU, we will ensure both unions' members are rewarded in this merger."

“This agreement allows us to use our combined strength and resources on behalf of all our members as we move forward at the new American Airlines,” said TWU International President James C. Little.  “Both unions have decades of experience representing workers at US Airways and American Airlines and both unions are members of the AFL-CIO.”

You can click here to read the press release announcing the agreement and here to read one of the early stories the Inquirer ran on the brawl.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer