The TWU Veteran’s Committee (TWUVC) convened their quarterly meeting in Chicago this week, hosted by Locals 512 and 572, with attendees from 15 other locals around the country. As part of TWU’s promise to invest in our veterans and strengthen the committee structure, the Veteran’s Committee has been hard at work pursuing an ambitious agenda aimed at broadening member communications, increasing legislative activity and continuing to support important charitable causes.
One issue facing the committee is employer compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a critical issue for a number of wounded warriors returning to work and requiring accommodations at their work sites. Members devised an action plan that locals can implement to hold management accountable for notifying employees of ADA procedures. The committee also coordinated final preparations for the Hank Trujillo Memorial Operation Free PX drive, an annual charity event recently renamed in honor of the late TWUVC chair. Finally, they developed a plan to organize additional fundraising and construction support for Building Homes for Heroes, a national organization that helps construct homes for service members returning from overseas.
The TWUVC believes strongly in the concept of members coming together across divisions, industries and braches to help veterans, and is guided by the TWU United Invincible motto: standing committed to serve those who need us most. As Brother Jesus Zamarron from Local 571 put it, “It was great to see the committee continue to grow, and I was personally inspired by what the members are doing back at their locals to carry out this mission.”
On December 8 and 9, the TWU ATD Veterans Committee co-led the distribution of hundreds upon hundreds of holiday gifts and necessities to wounded soldiers and their families at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX. Working in conjunction with Operation Military Embrace, a Texas-based military support organization, the Committee raised $8,000 and brought in an overwhelming number of goods donations from TWU members and locals across the country.
“These guys and gals are hurt, and they’re here beyond their control,” said Jose Galarza, US Army veteran and the TWU International’s ATD Veterans Committee Liaison. “They can’t be home for Christmas with their families. We try to help them and make their Christmas as good as we can. We [TWU Vets] understand what veterans go through and how hard it can be at times.”
Since the summer, Veterans Committee members worked to secure donations for their wounded fellow servicemen. Jose Martinez, a US Marine Corps veteran and TWU Local 571 member manned a donation bin in the American Eagle terminal. Shirley Kolling, a US Airforce veteran and TWU Local 575 member set up buckets at American Eagle ticket counters.
“People don’t always take into account how much razors cost, and how much laundry soap and diapers cost, and how that accumulates month after month,” said Jennifer Nelson, a Warrior Transition Battalion member at the Brooke Army Medical Center. “They get a break from that, take some of that financial strain off of them so that they can enjoy the holidays a little bit more.”
The drive served approximately 2,000 soldiers, along with their spouses and children. “Toys for the kids, bicycles, electronics, houseware items — you name it, we have it,” said Jose. “We received donations from the Transit Division, the Rail Division, and the Airline Division."
“We had about three U-Haul trucks,” said US Army veteran and ATD Veterans Committee Chairman Hank Trujillo. “We're helping families of Wounded Warriors celebrate a little bit more joyous Christmas.”
In midsummer of 2012, ATD Veterans Committee Recording Secretary Pete Meyer got a call from Local 501 Treasurer Angelo Cucuzza. The son of a Local 501 member, who had just finished boot camp, used the wrong classification of flight pass on his last trip home before being deployed. The member, who had worked at the American Airlines cargo facility at JFK for 27 years, had been terminated pending arbitration. Management argued that the member had violated flight policy by allowing his son to use a higher level of travel classification than he was allowed as a military serviceman — the classification he used was reserved for the children of employees attending college.
“It was completely unpatriotic,” said Pete, who also serves as the Veterans Committee representative for the New York area. “A child’s military status meant nothing to American Airlines. Why can you have a dependent child who is in college travel with one type of flight pass, but meanwhile we have a military member who is the same age who wants to come back to visit mom and dad at home — why can’t you give them the same privileges as college kids?”
When you travel standby at American Airlines, you do it by rank. Children of employees who are college students travel in the second-tier rank, after only the member themselves. Children who are on active military duty are in the third tier.
The airline’s flight policy for children of employees who are on active military duty had caused headaches before. Last year, a Local 562 member’s active duty son ended up spending two days of his leave period between tours at the airport waiting to get a third-tier standby seat on a flight home. After nearly 48 hours, the member decided that it just wasn’t worth it to for his son to spend another night sleeping in an airport terminal as his leave time ticked by — so he gave up on American Airlines and booked a seat for his son on another airline.
“How come a kid in college can come home whenever they want — Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break,” said Pete. “But a poor guy in the military can’t even get a seat on the plane because he’s flying D3 [third tier]?”
The situation at Local 501 was the last straw. “The flight policy was outdated and antiquated and needed to change,” said Angelo. “Pete Meyer did everything in his power to convince the manager at JFK to save the employee’s job. While the employee violated the rule, the rule was wrong. American Airlines claims to go above and beyond for active military duty members and veterans, so the policy just didn’t make sense.”
After around-the-clock pressure from the union and the Veterans Committee, the manager conceded and the member was brought back to work less than a week before his case would have gone to arbitration. “The manager agreed at the 11th hour to bring him back. We actually paid for the arbitration; that’s how close we were. It was a last-minute deal. Pete went down with the member and then went down on his own the next day to hammer home his point.”
But the Veterans Committee didn’t stop there. At their August meeting, Committee Chairman Hank Trujillo handed management representatives a copy of a letter requesting that the policy be changed. “We basically explained to headquarters that this policy of not allowing dependents who are in the military to travel unless they are D3 is outdated,” said Pete. “Our Chairman remembered seeing that same travel rule in the employee handbook he was given after being hired at American Airlines. These rules were probably in effect since before the Korean War. “
Although management agreed with the Veterans Committee that dependents in the military should be able to travel in D2, they said that American Airlines wouldn’t be able to start on a policy change until after the merger with US Airways. The Committee held firm, stating that with the holiday season coming up, the policy change was more important now than at any other time of the year and that military servicemen and their families just couldn’t wait.
On November 5, American Airlines sent out a special communication on their Jetwire system. The alert announced a company-wide policy change: All dependents under 24 years of age will be able to travel in the second-tier classification, whether in the military, the Peace Corps, or any other occupation or course of study.
“American Airlines would never publically acknowledge the behind-the-scenes work that the Veterans Committee did to change the policy,” said Angelo. “But I know personally that it was due to their persistence. Everything usually moves at a snail’s pace, and these guys on the Veterans Committee did a lot of good work. They kept it moving, and that policy change benefited the entire ATD Division.”
“Management agreed to this change on the travel policy because we worked together,” said Pete. “The Veterans Committee recognized the disparity and brought it to the company’s attention and they fixed it. Moving forward, we’d like to continue making sure that we get done what needs to be done for our men and women in uniform in partnership and agreement with management.”
“After all,” said Pete. “Many of us have a family member that has served or is presently serving our nation’s military. We are still at war. This is the longest war the United States of America has ever been in, and more dependants will be taking the solemn Oath of Enlistment and the solemn Oath of Office”.
Our veterans in the TWU are not only a tremendous source of pride for all union members, but also a source of aid and inspiration to the membership and their communities. Since its founding in 1934, the TWU has had the honor of counting among its membership generations of military veterans, dedicated to the ideals of brotherhood and loyalty, and with a commitment to their brothers and sisters in the military and in our union. Today, on Veterans Day, we thank all of our veterans for the sacrifices they have made for our country and people across the globe, as well as their service to union brothers and sisters after leaving active duty.
TWU veterans have led countless initiatives to support those on active military duty, from fundraisers to provide aid for the families of wounded servicemen to Local 514’s purchase of dozens of rucksacks for National Guard snipers in Tulsa, Oklahoma before their deployment to Afghanistan in 2010.
In just a few weeks, on December 8th and 9th, our ATD Veterans Committee will be working in conjunction with “Operation Military Embrace” and “Our American Duty” to distribute much-needed everyday items to Wounded Warriors and their families in San Antonio, Texas at the Brooke Army Medical Center. The Committee will be accepting donations until that time. To donate clothing, toiletries, children’s toys, etc., please contact the ATD at (817) 282-2544 or mail directly to Operation Free PX, C/O Jose Galarza, 1791 Hurstview Drive, Hurst TX 76054. More information below.
Previous initiatives have included Skyball, a fundraiser in support of North Texas military families; the Wounded Warrior Project at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; and Tribute to the Troops, a donation drive to provide needed vacation time for Wounded Warriors.
Our Veterans Committees are also a powerful political force. Committee members are active in supporting legislation that strengthens both the labor movement and veterans, as well as in helping to secure benefits our military members are entitled to under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), as well as under their locals’ collective bargaining agreements. Our Veterans Committees also assist veteran members who are due benefits from the Veterans Administration, including retirement benefits, disability benefits, benefits under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Military Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), improvements in conditions, and any other issues affecting uniformed service members and their families. The Committee’s motto is simple but powerful: “Veterans Helping Veterans.”
TWU locals active in our ATD Veterans Committee represent members at American Airlines, American Eagle Airlines, and Southwest Airlines, and they include locals 501, 502, 507, 512, 513, 514, 530, 541, 542, 556, 561, 562, 564, 565, 567, 568, 570, 571, 575, and 576.
To get involved with the ATD Veterans Committee, please contact Jose Galarza, the TWU ATD liaison for the ATD Veterans Committee and TWU’s representative on the AFL-CIO Veterans Council, at JGalarza@twu.org. Jose joined the United States Army Reserve in 1991, and was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from January 2006 to April 2007, during which time he commanded and participated in over 100 combat logistical patrols.
Information on the Brooke Army Medical Center fundraiser & donation drive to support Wounded Warriors and their families:
Cash Donations and Checks can be deposited at any American Airlines Credit Union branch or mailed to the address below to Account number 794073486-00. Please make checks payable to:
"Our American Duty Ltd."
501c nonprofit organization Tax ID # 45-4338621
Checks can also be mailed to:
P.O. Box 619001 MD 2100
HDQ DFW Airport