Air Transport World

Down but not out. (airline industry labor) (editorial)

Our special report this month is on labor in the airline industry and what has happened to it in recent years. We did one of these back in 1978 as the wonders of deregulation were about to unfold. We did another in 1981 as the airlines and their employes were well into the challenges presented by deregulation laced generously with a deep economic recession.

In looking at the industry today it appears that many labor leaders' worst fears of those past periods have come to pass. The combination of deregulation and recession have weighed very heavily on any grip that organized labor ever had on the airline industry. The simple mathematics of new low-labor-cost airlines turned loose in a field of incumbent airlines with very mature labor establishments, all in a zero-growth economy, has clearly shown for all to see that something had to change. There has been dramatic change, and much of the price has been paid of organized labor.

If anything could be said of the airline experience thus far in the 1980s it would be that it has been a time when reducing labor costs has been a more promising route to profitability than acquiring new technology. …

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