Labor Relations and Strikes

By Robert Mark on October 15th, 2007

I heard an interesting interview on NPR last week with Richard Hurd from Cornell University. He said the use of labor strikes across the U.S. has declined by 90 percent since the 1970s.

When Hurd began to focus on the Reagan Era, I expected to hear him mention the PATCO strike as a key moment. But the controller’s strike was never mentioned.

What changed the labor movement forever, he said, was a reinterpretation by Reagan appointees to the National Labor Relations Board of what it meant for employers to bargain in good faith. The Reagan group decided that good faith meant no more than showing up for talks. Reagan’s NLRB decided that employers could replace strikers, however, if the union took to the picket line in frustration over those discussions.

Labor Today

In the last year, aviation employees have begun beating the war drums again particularly at US Airways, United and American Airlines. The industry will probably see many more short-term work stoppages like the CHAOS plan flight attendants were cooking up last year. They don’t completely disrupt the system, but send a clear message to management.

Air traffic controllers and NATCA, on the other hand, are still stuck in the same quagmire they were after John Carr was ousted last year. What do you do when your employer walks away from the bargaining table and implements work rules without rank and file consent. Controllers are barred from striking, so they have no outlet for protest like pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. They can do little except wait for someone to help. The union hopes it will be Congress.

In an On the Record session with John Carr a few months back, he told me that despite essentially having their hands tied behind them, NATCA was better than no union at all. To me, the jury is still out on that one.

Now comes a new guy at FAA – no, not an administrator – Hank Krakowski – a United pilot and a man with extensive ALPA experience. Will this new COO of the Air Traffic Organization (ATO)– be a boon to controllers? Will he be the one to drag the agency back to the negotiating table and reopen talks?

Maybe.

But while Hank is an experienced pilot with a union background, he’s essentially on loan from United Airlines to the ATO. If NATCA can convince Krakowski there is something in it for the airlines to support reopening of the talks, however, he’s probably the guy to help make it happen. 

And BTW, the ATO … what purpose does that organization  actually serve anyway?

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One Response to “Labor Relations and Strikes”

  1. Don Brown Says:

    I agree that the Bush Administration has just about hamstrung NATCA — except in one most important area.

    Safety.

    NATCA can still talk about safety.

    Safety isn’t a weapon any more than truth is a weapon. But in the end, it — like the truth — is what matters.

    It’s amazing how many people overlook that simple fact.

    Don Brown

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