Air Transport World

Labor-management relations far from calm, still in transition. (airlines)

Labor/management relations far from calm, still in transition

A meeting of the minds between airline labor and management groups is a rare event, but a rousing unanimity has sprung up as the traditional adversaries join forces, at least in spirit, against the advancing fortunes of the Texas Air Corporation (TAC) carriers.

Another point on which a near consensus has been reached is that the downward pressure on airline employe wages is not nearly as overwhelming at it was two or three years ago. Indeed, in the high skill areas, the pay trend already has begun a turnaround as the scarcity of experienced workers drives up the price. However, there remains a significant weakness in the bargaining clout of unskilled unions. Regardless of the skill levels, union leaders are saying they have given as much as they can give and are preparing for harder fights. With evidence of unions increasing ability to organize effectively, these union statements are gaining believers.

Unions attack TAC

These trends became apparent during the Air Transport Labor Relations Conference in Washington, D.C., the first such conference since deregulation and the first since 1969.

Unions have two major rationales for attacking TAC: First, to counter an obvious anti-union employer who has by fiat wiped out meaningful union representation at Continental and is threatening its Eastern unions with the same results, although through different means. Second, TAC represents the sole remaining significant competition that managements of other carriers can cite as the reason for continued contract concessions. If the wage and benefit differential between Continental and the average for the rest of the U.S. industry--put at 34% by the Air Line Pilots Association--can be eliminated, the unions can start back from a string of retreating contracts to a position of more equal bargaining power.

Seth Rosen, ALPA's director of representation, sees growing airline industry stability, a good sign for labor, with the single exception of Continental. "Other airlines will be forced to bring their costs down,' he said. "It is a problem that must be dealt with if we are going to return to some sort of stability.'

The extent of ALPA's concerns is shown by the $2 million the pilot union has set aside for a campaign to re-unionize the Continental pilots, compared to the $1.4 million ALPA will spend on organizing the rest of the un-aligned industry, said Henry Duffy, ALPA president.

Some carriers, with American Airlines President. Chairman and CEO Robert L. Crandall taking the lead, also wish to see Continental's cost structure rise to the level of their own airlines, not only to reduce Continental's competitive advantage but also to stabilize relations with unions that promise to get increasingly rocky if demands for concessions continue.

Crandall is campaigning for congressional legislation to establish "a basic set of ground rules covering medical costs, pensions and labor practices within which management and labor can negotiate wage and benefit packages tailored to each company's benefit. …

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