John Samuelsen

LOVE THE WAY HE FIGHTS: John Samuelsen, who was re-elected by acclamation at the Transport Workers Union of America's convention in Las Vegas, told delegates that members backed him and his board for "the fight we brought" when management 'mistreats our people.'

Transport Worker Union International President John Samuelsen was re-elected by acclamation to a second four-year term during the union's Sept. 14 convention at Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas.

The International has close to 151,000 members represented by 100 locals divided into four divisions: transit, rail, gaming, and air division/service contracts. Local 100, its largest local with more than 40,000 members, is also the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's largest union.

'We Work as a Team'

"You have no idea how much pride and thankfulness we have right now," Mr. Samuelsen told the roughly 500 delegates and alternates in attendance. "We work as a team. We work in unison."

He continued, "When there's four years of an administration, four years of a leadership, and we run unopposed, we take that to mean that the fight that we brought, and the philosophy that we bring—which is 'you're a big boss, you're a small boss, you mistreat our people, we're going to go after you'is what members want.

"We're going to do it smartly, wisely, that's our philosophy. Winning by acclamation is to me the greatest endorsement that the body of the TWU wants us to keep going after the bosses the way that we've been doing it," he said.

He added that he viewed the lack of opposition as a mandate from members "to keep advocating in Washington and statehouses on behalf of TWU members, aggressively, the way that we've been doing it."

Others Re-Elected

Mr. Samuelsen's "United Unstoppable" leadership slate included International Vice President Alex Garcia, Secretary-Treasurer Jerome Lafragola, Administrative Vice President Curtis Tate, and Administrative Vice President Mike Mayes.

He became international president in 2017 following the sudden retirement of incumbent Harry Lombardo, and that September was elected to a full term. Prior to the change at the TWU of America, Mr. Samuelsen was president of Local 100 and an international vice president.

According to the national union, membership has grown by 10 percent during his first term.

Perhaps the most-vivid example of Mr. Samuelsen's combative style was his May 2019 face-to-face confrontation with American Airlines President Robert Isom at JFK Airport during a bitter contract dispute where management pressed for significant work-rule concessions to increase its profitability, including the overseas outsourcing of passenger jet maintenance.

Got What He Wanted

Last year, that confrontational strategy appeared to pay off when American agreed to a $4.2-billion five-year contract that provided significant pay increases, benefit enhancements and protections against outsourcing.

Wage gains ranged from 4.5 percent to 18 percent, depending on the job title and certifications. 

The deal also provided for an "industry-best profit-sharing formula" for workers that gave them "10 percent of American's first $2.5 billion of pre-tax income, as well as 20% of pre-tax-income above $2.5 billion," according to Forbes.

Eighteen months ago, Mr. Samuelsen was one of the labor leaders who won Federal approval of a $32-billion support package for the airlines, conditioned on their continuing to employ their workers for six months despite a 90-percent drop in passenger volume caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Payroll Protection Plan passed by Congress avoided layoffs while prohibiting use of the Federal money for management bonuses or stock buybacks.

Credited Dems in Congress

At the time, Mr. Samuelsen credited Democratic congressional leaders for taking what he described as a "European-style" approach to heading off massive air-travel layoffs. He cited similar measures taken in response to the COVID crisis by Western European nations that kept their unemployment numbers from spiking to the Great Depression-era levels seen here in the U.S.

"Without that intervention, our airlines would never have done that," he said. "The airlines would have done stock buybacks and laid off workers. They would have used it as a moment to contract to minimum-wage workers for the work that we do."

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