Who is behind RFAA, giving advice and profiting at the expense of Flight Attendants?

The law firm of Seham, Seham, Meltz and Peterson (SSM&P) is advising a handful of individuals in their efforts to isolate regional Flight Attendants from Flight Attendants in the rest of the industry. SSM&P is a union-busting operation led by a millionaire real estate developer Lee Seham, with ties to right-to-work advocates and corporate executives. Let's be clear: they are here to make money.

This law firm has a record of profiting from workers' dues by claiming to offer mechanics, Flight Attendants and other workers in our industry legal representation. But they only show up when there's an existing union to pick apart. For them, it's not about advancing the rights of workers, or helping non-union workers gain a union. No, they're just opportunists.

Dividing workers against each other is one of their most common tactics. And taking advantage of workers is their business plan. They prey particularly on workers who have experienced airline bankruptcy and mergers, because they know it's easy to take advantage in times of change, challenge and concern.

But here's the truth: this firm has a long history of union-busting and representing management against workers.

Track Record

This latest scheme, backed by Seham's group may have a new name, but their claims of offering legal services, is their usual foot in the door to exploit workers. What goes on behind the backs of the workers they represent is the most abhorrent.

In fact, their law firm of Seham and Seham has represented corporations – including airlines such as TWA, SAS, El Al, Varig and Air Lingus – in legal actions against workers and unions, opposing workers' rights for years. A few examples:

  • Seham represented Varig's effort to block a union election as far back as 1983;
  • SAS used Seham to block the Teamsters from honoring picket lines during an Eastern Airlines strike in 1989;
  • A lawyer from Seham's firm even helped write a manual for employers called "Fire at Will, Terminating Your Employees Legally."
  • When the Allied Pilots Association (APA) at Air West found they were representing management against unions behind their backs, they fired McCormick.

It Gets Worse

One of Seham's biggest labor clients has been AMFA, considered by many to be one of the worst unions in America. AMFA gives other unions a bad name by its incompetent and destructive actions, advised by Seham. Again, the workers within the union need our support – but the union-busters attempting to profit off their misfortune need to be exposed. The AMFA experience shows what other unions advised by Seham should expect. Here are some illustrative examples for your consideration:

Inept Negotiations - On May 11, 2001, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) signed a contract with Northwest covering 10,000 mechanics. AMFA was a small, stand-alone, single-craft union; the leaders had little experience but lots of strong opinions. In return for fairly large wage increases, AMFA had agreed to allow management the unlimited right to contract out their work. They bet that management would not do so and the highly-skilled mechanics' jobs would be safe. It was a fatal mistake. A mere four days later, management began contracting out massive numbers of the mechanics' jobs.

10,000 Jobs Lost – As they watched management send thousands of jobs to contractors and lay off Northwest mechanics, AMFA made its second fatal mistake. In the industry downturn that followed the 9/11 attacks, management demanded more concessions. AMFA leaders refused to let the members vote on management's final offer. Then, without a strike vote, AMFA leaders took the Northwest mechanics out on what has become known as the "Suicide Strike." Northwest management, which had a well-known record of union busting, was ready: they brought in hundreds of scabs, contracted out more jobs, and were able to maintain flight operations with few or no interruptions due to the strike. In the end, AMFA created a scenario in which 10,000 mechanics lost their jobs and only a few hundred strike-breakers remained working. When Northwest merged with Delta, AMFA simply walked away without a fight.

There's a reason union-busters try to divide workers and undercut existing unions.

Independent unions are fertile ground for these tactics by union busters. Larger unions, with greater resources and the support of the AFL-CIO, don't use firms like this for a reason. We have the benefit of numerous very experienced professionals on our own staff, respected consultants with vast experience throughout the industry, and the backing of America's largest labor federation. Seham and firms like it are well aware that established unions don't fall for their tactics, so they target anyone who might be vulnerable to their claims and willing to pay. They isolate them from the larger unions and labor movement in order to weaken their voice and increase their reliance on Seham.

Be Cautious – Don't Sign Anything

Your signature could give permission to work against your interests. We ask you to beware of rumors, false information and selfish motivations that would seek to divide us. Be particularly wary of signing anything. You can expect misrepresentations by those distributing authorization cards for RFAA. Examples may include, "Just sign so you'll get more information." Or, "Just sign to show you care about that issue [whatever issue you mention]."

We want you to know the real truth before you sign anything. Remember, a Union authorization card is a legal document that will be used in evidence at the National Mediation Board (NMB) to determine if there is enough support to call for a decertification election. It takes a majority of the entire Flight Attendant work force. If successful it would trigger an election with "no union" on the ballot and that could lead to no contract at all. The best way to stop any attempt to divide us is to simply refuse to sign a card, or quietly accept the card and write on it, "AFA is my Union," but do not sign the card. No need for confrontation, just a calm, professional and resolute response.

Bottom Line

When a law firm like Seham uses one individual to try to divide us, it only serves to undercut our Union's efforts.

It's a threat to our rights as workers and will not only accrue as a benefit to management but will foster corporate greed and line the pockets of those in the Seham law firm.

The law firm however, isn't really important. Changing to a new consultant won't change the negative impact. The way that we create positive momentum is by breaking down barriers to unity, listening to each other, encouraging involvement to affect the positive change we want. Creating change within our union to promote a real understanding of our entire community of Flight Attendants and our collective priorities is what will make the difference in our workplace.

Bottom line, changing the letters of the union doesn't change the people who comprise the union. We are the Union and within our Union, we honor democracy, debate and differing points of view and encourage members to learn more about how to voice concerns and priorities within our organization. We can be the change we want to see.

The airline industry is constantly changing, but our Flight Attendant Union is the one constant you can count on. We encourage you to be a part of change. Contact your Local Council to get involved in shaping our AFA today. With AFA we have power because we are: Stronger Together – Better Together.