Will Comair Pilots Strike This Time?

By Robert Mark on February 9th, 2007

A federal judge Wednesday gave Comair management a green light to impose new work rules on its pilot group when a deadline runs out tonight at midnight.

For their part in the process, the pilots got a poke in the eye as the court added insult to injury not only by sanctioning the imposition of new work and pay rules, but also by banning pilots from using the one tool left in their labor arsenal … a strike.

The question, of course, is whether the Comair pilots – or any regional pilot – would ever again consider walking another picket line anyway. I have my doubts.

While a strike is not new territory for Comair pilots – they called a 90-day strike in 2001 – the ALPA leadership seems to be giving signs that they will comply with the court order. The question on everyone’s mind is why now when the union had promised in the past that they’d walk if new rules were shoved down their throats? Is there a deal in the offing?

Reading the Workplace Professor blog, reminded me about a point of law few have spoken about during any of these labor conversations, but one that calls for repeating here … the Norris LaGuardia Act.

That 75-year old piece of federal legislation for the most part bars courts from imposing restrictions on labor in cases very much like this one at Comair. Quoting from one online source about a Senate report on the bill … “A man must work in order to live. If he can express no control over his conditions of employment, he is subject to involuntary servitude”

One report on the Comair situation baffled me though. The fact that Comair pilots might simply walk away from their jobs rather than strike. If you’re willing to leave your job, why not stick up for you job on the way out I wondered.

So why would Comair pilots quit rather than strike? Simple, because the major airlines are all in a hiring mode and honestly, few regional pilots want to sit in the front seat of an RJ when they watch a 777 pass them going the other way.

Imagine getting that first big interview at United and they ask why they left their last job? “Well, you see, my job essentially disintegrated when I began walking a picket line.” Good luck getting to a second interview.

From a practical point, sucking it in and looking for a new job probably makes sense to most Comair pilots.

But of course, we still must go back to the discussion we had about the air traffic controllers union, as well as the earlier post about non-union Ryanair.

Is A union better than NO union? If you think so, how do you carve out the parts of collective bargaining you agree with fro

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m those that interfere with your career progression.

By early next week we’ll learn what the Comair pilots decided. The bigger question about unions in the already highly-unionized aviation industry will remain a continuing point of contention though.

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5 Responses to “Will Comair Pilots Strike This Time?”

  1. Drake Ferruzzi Says:

    I have one question Mr. Mark, What would happen if the pilots still did strike? Would they all be fired causing a shortage at least for awhile while passengers see delays and cancellations? Hope to hear back.

    -Drake Ferruzzi

  2. Lee Aase Says:

    Robert – You’ve done a nice job with this blog. I’m glad to see you’ve applied what you learned at the conference.

  3. Norman Rhodes Says:

    There is something distinctly unsavory about having working condition stuffed down your throat. I have been in receipt of this kind of treatment with colleagues before and guess what? We did what pilots generally do – we nodded, smiled, then looked for a better job.

    We are fast approaching a time when airline managers and policy makers will need to review the way in which they regard and treat the people who fly their aircraft. If we are not prepared at some stage to defend the status of our profession, we deserve all we get.

    The industry is getting short of bums on seats, this time the bums are those at the front of the aeroplane.

  4. Rob Mark Says:

    >>

    While I agree with the need to stand up for the profession Norman, I think ALPA, as well as NATCA for the controllers, needs to figure out how far it is willing to go to achieve its goals.

    Here in the states, there is a considerable conflict between elements of the union for regional pilots vs. how that same union represents mainline pilots. One group at the forefront of the conflict is the RJ Defense Coalition.

    They should have different tactical goals certainly, but ALPA has put itself in a corner where ALPA pilot is pitted against ALPA pilot.

    How in the world can they look to the future of their interactions with management when they’re fighting amongst themselves?

  5. Rob Mark Says:

    In the old days, pilots were not fired when they walked the picket line. But after the controller strike in 81, management learned about a valuable new tool.

    Now, pilots fear a strike.

    Of course, we can’t lose sight of the fact that airline management has also made pilots feel that after 9/11, any strike against the airline would be a strike at the heart of America.

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