Air Transport World

Unions struggle to adjust. (airline industry)

Like the companies whose employes they represent, airline unions are trying to adjust to competition. After talks with several labor officials, one must conclude that the painful adjustment is occurring slowly, and with great reluctance. But public words to the contrary, labor is adjusting. It must because, for now, there is not yet enough expansion of business to protect existing jobs.

Nationwide the union movement is stagnant. Along with the increase in service industries as a percentage of gross national paroduct has come a decline in the attractions of organized labor. It simply takes white collar workers longer to become convinced of the benefits of unionism than it does manufacturing employes. Sometimes, they never are convinced. According to one source, labor lost 55-60% of its airline organizing attempts in 1983. "Their credibility is hurting," he says.

The recent recession also took its toll of union members. Labor attributes the loss of jobs in the airline business to deregulation. According to John Peterpaul, general VP of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), "During these past five years (1978-1983), our figures show that employment in the industry has gone from 340,000 to 290,000." Peterpaul says the IAM alone "lost" 15,000 jobs.

The Civil Aeronautics Board, on the other hand, has no such numbers. It says there were 327,595 full-time employes in the business as of October 1978. As of January 1984, with some small carriers still not reporting, there were 311,055 full-time employes, and 18,904 part-time, a growing phenomenon in the industry.

The government, too, has taken some teeth out of the union movement. The Reagan administration's firing of the air traffic controllers and the recent Supreme Court decision making abrogation of contracts easier in bankruptcy are only two examples. Cost pressures

Domestic airline competition has forced managers to take cost reduction more seriously. Such efforts have resulted in two-tier wage scales at airlines such as Northwest, Air Canada, Mexicana, United and American. In fact, the IAM recommended that its members reject American's plan. But the AA mechanics decided they valued their jobs too highly to risk turning down the two-tier idea. …

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