ALPA Takes on AW&ST about inaccurate reporting

Derg

Cap, Roci
Staff member
February 10, 2003

David M. North
Editor-In-Chief
Aviation Week & Space Technology
200 G. Street, N.W. Suite 922
Washington, D.C. 20005\

To the Editor:

The Feb. 3 Viewpoint ("Bring Binding Arbitration To Airline Disputes") was, to put it bluntly, utter nonsense.

Nonsense in that the author, a labor lawyer, garbled his airline history almost beyond recognition. Nonsense in that the logic of the arguments has more holes than substance. Nonsense in that its assertions of cause and effect have little relationship to reality.

Regarding the history, Ill skip over minor but glaring errors such as the implication that the Comair strike occurred after the 9/11 attacks. More importantly, the article ignores the fact that after deregulation, and particularly in the early- to mid-1980s and the early- to mid-1990s, airline workers gave back hundreds of millions of dollars in contractconcessions. This was done without the routine use of binding arbitration, even though binding arbitration was and still is available under the Railway Labor Act. And what did the airlines do with those cost savings? In the first instance, they were used to fuel the next rounds of price cuts in bloody and futile attempts to increase market share. More recently, airlines used the cost savings to pursue schemes such as stock buy-backs at inflated prices nearly $11 billion since 1997 ill-fated merger attempts, and a fractional-ownership executive airline service.

In short, the history of airline labor negotiations has been that the workers do their fair share and more to save their airlines. Unfortunately, they cannot save their airlines from the "stupid management tricks" that waste hundreds of millions of dollars.

As to the logic of the arguments, the author twice mentions fuel in the same breath as labor as a leading cost component, yet nowhere is there any call for the government to impose binding arbitration on setting fuel costs. Where is the logic in that omission? He says that because soldiers, police, firefighters, and air traffic controllers cannot strike, airline workers should not be allowed to strike. The reason the former cannot strike is because they are government workers, whereas airline workers are in the private sector. And in a particularly insulting lapse of logic, he says that post-9/11 patriotism should have driven workers to grant pay cuts. Not only is there no logical connection between the two, but to impugn the patriotism of airline workers pilots and flight attendants were the first to die defending against the Sept. 11 attacks is beyond belief.

As to cause and effect, the author simply ignored the fact that the industrys current woes started with the collapse of the dot-com bubble, were rapidly increased by the effects of 9/11, and will continue so long as airlines have to bear the burdens of massive taxation and unfunded security mandates. Labor costs were not the original source of the industrys problems; but as I outlined above, and noting the recent, massive concessions at United and US Airways (plus numerous other concessionary talks now under way at other carriers), airline labor recognizes that it cannot (and should not) insist on maintaining the status quo. It is working to be part of the solution.

In closing, let me add that no one is fooled when the author speaks of compulsory binding arbitration as some pristine, ideal process that operates in a vacuum to provide fairness and justice for all. The airlines, through their front group CESTA, are backing legislation in the form of the McCain-Lott bill, a version of which is expected to be introduced again in this session of Congress. This legislation would stack the deck so that the arbitrators will have virtually no choice except to rule for the management position. Compulsory binding arbitration is nothing short of a naked power grab by the airlines.

Sincerely,

Capt. Duane Woerth, President
 
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