Politicians and Bosses Team Up Against Airline Workers

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Taking advantage of the current political climate and economy, airline bosses and politicians are teaming up to mount a direct assault on the collective bargaining rights of America’s airline workers.

Bill S.1327, the Airline Labor Dispute Resolution Act, is being sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Az.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). Its corporate supporters include Don Carty, CEO of American Airlines; Leo Mullin, CEO of Delta Airlines; and Frederick Smith, chairman of the board of FEDEX.

The bill would give the Secretary of Labor the authority to intervene in airline contract disputes to overturn the collective bargaining provisions of the Railway Labor Act (applied to airlines since 1936) and impose mandatory arbitration. The Secretary would be able to intervene by declaring an “air transportation emergency.”

This emergency is defined in the bill as one that “(A) threatens to interrupt the carriage of passengers or cargo in interstate air transportation by an air carrier in any region of the country in a manner that is likely to curtail operations significantly at any hub airport … and thereby cause injury to the economy of that region; (B) threatens to interrupt the carriage of passengers or cargo in foreign air transportation in a manner that is likely to cause injury to the foreign commerce of the United States or its balance of payments; or (C) threatens the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

In the event these conditions apply (and given their sweep it’s impossible they couldn’t), the labor dispute would be sent to an arbitration panel of five: one each appointed by the company and union(s) and three “neutrals.”

Arbitration in this case would be based on the professional baseball model. The arbitrators would look at the two conflicting contract proposals and pick one of them in its entirety to be implemented within 10 days of its ruling. Only the Secretary would have the right, on appeal, to alter provisions of the accepted contract, at his discretion.

This bill, if passed, would in effect eliminate collective bargaining and ban strikes in the airline industry (both already hampered by the Railway Labor Act). It goes way beyond the Presidential Emergency Boards that have been used in the past to impose rail and airline contracts against striking workers.

It would set the position of labor back to that of over 100 years ago, when both strikes and unions were ruled to be illegal as “conspiracies in restraint of trade.” The provisions of the bill baldly place the interests of capitalist profits over the lives and rights of workers. When the government has the right to declare economic martial law because a company’s operations may be “significantly curtailed” (and what else is a strike about?) it’s only a short way to reducing the American working class to a state of complete serfdom.

S.1327 (and all bills like it) poses a dire threat to all working people, not just airline workers. Like the Patriot Act, this bill is a direct attack on fundamental democratic rights that have been won after many years of struggle, using the pretext of “the economic well-being of the country” and “national security”. It must be defeated by all means at labor’s disposal.

This means breaking with the all too long existing tradition of union leaderships of sacrificing working-class interests to “partnerships” with the bosses, or to the “national interest”, or to “lesser evil” politics. This continual subordination of labor to its class enemies is a major reason why such anti-labor, anti-worker, anti-democratic legislation as S.1327 can even be considered.

For the sake of its very survival, labor will have to reject the “United We Stand” scam being used to cloak the self-interested actions of the ruling class and its agents, and move forward on the road of economic and political class independence.

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