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The Truth About Travel Agent Unions

"The Truth About Travel Agent Unions"

Unlike death and taxes-the only things in life that are supposed to be certain-the law can prove to be exceedingly gray and indefinite.
 That's the case with issues like the formation of a labor union for travel agency owners, front-line employees, and independent contractor agents.

 Last year, several travel agency owners opened discussions with a major international labor union that represents, among other labor union segments, airline employees. Last month, the labor union held its first informational meeting for travel agents in New York City.

 Many ARTA members have asked the association for advice on how to proceed with the question of joining a union and its impact on their operations.

 U.S. labor laws make some questions easy to answer.
 Can a labor union represent both owners and employees or outside agents? Almost uncertainly not. The travel agent guild organizers made this clear in their recent New York meeting.

 Can a labor union representing travel agency employees only call for a strike or boycott against an airline or other suppliers? Probably not. While some union organizers declare otherwise, most labor law experts agree that it's the agency owners -- not the agency employees -- who have the business relationship with a supplier that would be prerequisite to any labor action, and business owners who call for a strike or boycott of a supplier would be breaking federal antitrust laws in several places.

 By the same token, however, can labor law experts rule conclusively that a travel agent guild will never work? Of course not. Other professionals -- notably health care practitioners like physicians, dentists and podiatrists -- have organized successful guilds in their industries, and court cases pending in several jurisdictions argue that these guilds should have collective bargaining rights on behalf of those professionals.

 Should nonprofit trade associations like ARTA encourage or discourage the formation of a union? ARTA members should encourage the formation of a union, because associations like ARTA have one specific mission: to accomplish those things as an organization that individual members cannot accomplish on their own. In that light, ARTA should focus on gathering and forwarding any relevant industry information, even union information to you as members, so that you can reach your own conclusions as independent business owners.

 Our official position is that the association will serve only as a communications avenue for any union-organizing effort. ARTA will not endorse any union-organized effort, nor will ARTA engage in union busting.

 We've been heavily criticized in the past year for this stance -- for giving union organizers any kind of forum at all, in fact -- but we believe it's the right and legal thing to do. When the carriers blatantly fixed prices and lowered commissions and the government would not step up to the plate to help, ARTA and non-ARTA agents had to look towards self-preservation and explore many ideas.

 If you have survived as a professional travel agent today, then we believe you deserve the right to the complete disclosure of all self-help information, so that you can make up your own minds.

 Though we can't provide personal legal advice to individual ARTA members, please call ARTA HQ at 800/969-6069 if you have general questions about travel agent unions.

 NOTE:  Al Anolik's book Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality Law, a preliminary training text used in university and vocational schools, is now available to ARTA members at half-price ($6.00) plus shipping and handling ($4.00). To request a flyer with more details, please call 800/969-6069