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Future of organized labour in aviation16. july 2010 19:17 | Regulations
by Barry Hudson
The initiation of organized labor in aviation came from Douglas Aircraft Company workers that where on loan from Douglas to work on Howard Hughes’ Movie, the Hell’s Angels. The Douglas workers witness how much the studio workers had achieved through unions and soon about thousand workers from the Douglas Aircraft Company signed up for a union. Since then, unions have grown to be an integral part of the aviation industry.
Organized labor is getting more and more important as the airlines see a decrease in profit. They will become essential to the workers to keep their benefits and earnings in the future. The importance of having organized labor is the most when the Industry is down. If the aviation industry goes up again, and it looks like it will go up, there is less need for labor unions.
High oil prices are the main reason for the decrease in profits for the airlines. By the looks of it, the oil prices are not going down anytime soon. This means that airlines have to find another way to reduce cost, which often results in cutting back on benefits and salaries of workers and laying off employees. Another reason for the deceased profits is the decline in air travel.
We are not as aware of the labor unions as we used to be. Labor unions used to represent nearly half of all private sectors employees, now they represent only about one in every ten private sectors employees.
It can be debated if fewer days spent on strike and labor disputes are a good thing or not, but sometimes that is the only effective way for employees to negotiate what they want. I don’t think the fewer days spent on strikes and the decease of people involved in labor unions is necessarily because of the improved wages and working conditions. I think one of the reasons is that workers are more independent than they were before. There are of cores many points that can debated of why the unions have less power than they used to have.
Corruption and organized crimes have been associated and damaged the organized labor movements is the United States. Labor unions where involved in extortion, embezzlement, benefit plan theft, bribing, and other things that all placed a bad name on labor unions. The corruption that has been surrounding the unions since the early 1900s is one of the reasons for the decease on union memberships.
Northwest Airline’s ability to replace its mechanics during a strike in the summer of 2005 could have negative effect on unions, especially in aviation. Northwest Airline was able to keep their airplanes flying during a strike by members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA). Northwest kept their airplanes flying by using replacement workers, outside contractors, and management to replace the AMFA mechanics. Northwest’s success in replacing these workers could encourage other airlines to do the same. Now, the airlines have better negotiation position with the unions and the reluctant of other unions to join AMFA is a sign of fear by workers being replaced by outsourcing and replacement workers.
Since September 11, 2001, the airlines have been cutting jobs and that has made a pool of potential replacement workers to take the position of pilots, mechanics, flight attendance, and other aviation related Positions. For an example, Northwest Airlines had about thousand flight attendance ready to fill in the position of the members of the Professional Flight Attendance Association (PFAA) if they would have voted in favor of a sympathy strike to assist the AMFA.
Even though Northwest Airline managed to replace its mechanics while they where on strike, it might not be as easy to replace the flight attendance and pilots. Maintenance work is often outsourced in aviation, especially with low fare airlines, so it is easier to replace mechanics then it is to replace pilots, flight attendance and other aviation related positions.
Minorities could hold the future for organized labor in aviation in America. Minorities such as women, African American, Hispanics, and other minorities are increasingly becoming part in aviation. More minorities are now pilots, flight attendance, and mechanics then ever. Organized labor is more important for minorities then it is for majorities, because minorities are often the first to be laid of when companies are struggling to show profit.
Discrimination against minorities is also common in aviation as it is in other industries. Organized labor is important for minorities to be able to attain same salaries and benefits as majorities have, therefore unions are a very important thing for minorities and that is not likely to change for the next few years.
It is always the possibility that labor unions will lose their negotiation position with the companies and might have to be forced to change their procedures to be able to operate. It is maybe not likely that the unions will become a third party administrator for benefits plans, but it is always the possibility that the unions will follow the new era and do like other companies do, change their procedures to adjust to its members or “customers” of the unions.
Organized labor movements in aviation are still very strong in Europe, especially in France, Italy, and throughout Scandinavia. Airlines in Europe such as SAS, Alitalia, Air France, KLM, and Ryan Air have all been hurt by continues strikes from mechanics, flight attendance, pilots and other workers, even baggage handlers have been striking. SAS which is the largest airline in Scandinavia has experienced much trouble because of strikes and has had to chancel many flight a year because of strikes within the company. SAS is in much need to lower their operating cost after they have been operating without any profit for years. Because of the strong unions in Scandinavia they are not able to lower their operating cost by cutting wages and benefits of the employees. This has had negative impact on airlines in Scandinavia and most of them are struggling to show any profit.
The airlines are surely hoping that the unions will finally end up as a third party administrator for benefit plans. I think that the unions are preventing the airlines to recover from September 11, 2001. The unions and its members are not willing to make any compromise to help the airlines out of this struggles they are in. Large American airlines such as Delta, United, and US Airways have filed for Chapter 11 and it seems that their only hope is to decrease wages and benefits to its employees. It can also be debated that while the airlines are trying all they can to decrease the wages and benefits of mechanics, pilots, and other employees, the management is getting extremely high wages, bonuses, and other benefits.
I thank that if the unions would vanish, airlines would be able to be more competitive and ticket fares would be lower. The airlines would have better employees and more reliable employees because they could lay off unproductive employees and this would also add to the safety of flying.
Most likely is that we will see organized labor in aviation in similar form as it is now. The unions are usually strongest when the industry is down, as we are experiencing with the aviation industry today. If, or most likely, when the aviation industry starts blooming again the unionization of workers will most likely decrease.
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