Airport union vote takes wings

Maintenance workers at Bob Hope Airport voted overwhelmingly this week to unionize, setting the stage for contract negotiations they hope will result in higher wages and improved benefits.

Thirty-one maintenance workers will now join International Union of Operating Engineers Local 501, said Gavin Koon, a Local 501 representative. One worker was out of town the day of the vote, which came in at 29-1 in favor of unionizing, he added.

“Very rarely is there such solidarity,” Koon said. “It’s very unusual.”

Koon has been involved with unions, particularly in the entertainment industry, for many years, he said.

A top grievance among the maintenance workers has been that they are not paid prevailing wages despite a stipulation in their contract with the airport’s operator that calls for prevailing wages.

They also earn less when compared to similar jobs at other airports, according to a wage survey they compiled in July.

The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, composed of representatives from the three cities, oversees the airport. TBI Airport Management Inc., based in Sanford, Fla., handles the airport’s day-to-day operations through a contract.

TBI President Larry Gouldthorpe released a statement expressing concern about dealing with a union in a stagnant economy.

“Poor economic conditions, high unemployment rates in the area and the continuing need to provide cost-efficient service at the Bob Hope Airport in a very competitive local airport market all combine to make union representation a challenge when considered in the full context of our present environment,” he said.

Koon said the vote would be certified in the coming days, during which time TBI can appeal the outcome.

That process is difficult, Koon said, because each vote must be appealed individually. With the vast majority of workers voting for union representation, turning over two or three votes won’t matter because unionization takes only a 51% majority.

TBI could also appeal on the basis that union representatives used improper methods when dealing with workers.

“That won’t happen. We were very careful,” Koon said.

After the vote is certified, negotiations between the union and TBI will begin, but Koon said there’s no timetable, adding that “we’ll want to meet as soon as possible.”

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