he powerful Unite union has for too long been an “answering machine” for airport workers, leadership candidate Gerard Coyne has claimed.
Mr Coyne took a thinly veiled swipe at the current leadership of the union on a visit to meet British Airways ground staff at Heathrow on Friday.
He said the union must “step up” its support for the aviation sector which has been hard hit by the pandemic.
However, a Unite spokesman was quick to hit back saying his words were “deeply insulting” to members and officers who had worked to protect members throughout the crisis.
Mr Coyne is seen as the moderate candidate in the race to replace firebrand Len McCluskey as General Secretary of Labour’s biggest union backer.
At his first major visit since ballots first opened on Monday, Mr Coyne said: “Our aviation industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic.
“People, not planes, have paid the price – including our brilliant BA ground staff here at Heathrow.
“Unite must step up now to provide more support and assistance.
“For too long the only answers workers here have been getting from Unite is an answering machine.”
Mr Coyne said his plan for change at Unite will include a 24/7 support service for members and reps.
He also called for an extension of furlough for the aviation industry.
Mr Coyne has also pledged to end what he claims is the union’s “focus on messing around” in Westminster politics.
In response to his comments today, a Unite spokesman told the Standard: “This is deeply insulting to our members and officers who have fought tirelessly to protect members’ jobs and safety through this crisis.
“There are many to blame for the troubles besetting this sector but the workers or their union are not among them.”
Ballot papers for the election were sent out on Monday, July 5.
Against Mr Coyne are left wingers Steve Turner, who is endorsed by the Communist Party, and Sharon Graham, who has the support of the Socialist Workers Party.
Unite’s current general secretary Mr McCluskey is backing Mr Turner in the race.
At stake are millions of pounds of grants and donations funnelled from Unite’s accounts into political campaigning, as well as the union’s influence over the selection of future MPs and in policy votes.
Mr Turner said: “I have been proud to represent aviation workers as an officer of our union so I know what I am talking about.
“I know that from airside to the aircraft, our members and their reps are totally dedicated to their industry. This swipe at them is simply out of order.”