Scared straight

Pickets, with a large stuffed rat, international support, a $10-million bank account: the Delta pilots union had a full armada when it warned its members, telling them to clean out their lockers at work, and certainly scaring the public, who booked away from Delta, and scared the media, who ran banner headlines with the largest-size type they could find to spell out S T R I K E.

One would think that a strike against a bankrupt carrier is madness: after all they’re bankrupt and presumably don’t have whole heck of a lot of money. And many lawyers, most of them working for airlines, believe that the law bars any strike against a bankrupt carrier. Even though this is a grey area legally, it’s likely that a judge would end order any strike ended until the courts settle the issue.

Turns out both sides, the Air Line Pilots Association and Delta Air Lines were running scared and as Americans prepared for a weekend strike watch, the stuffed rat was replaced by the dove of peace or at least a dove of tentative quiet: the two sides agreed just days before an independent arbitrators’ panel was to decide if Delta should be allowed to tear up its ALPA contract – which would have precipitated a strike.

It was pretty widely agreed that Delta would cease to exist within a day or two at most if struck; but it was the stern words of the arbitration panel’s chairman, Richard Bloch, that scared the two sides into negotiating seriously enough that they could get a deal. Bloch’s language deserves recognition because it would seem to apply to too many airline labour crises: “This is a shameful exercise by two groups who, it appears, have bargained successfully in fat times, and in hard times, the talk turns to nuclear options and shredding a labour agreement, eviscerating pensions and the profound expectations of families, striking the company, generally taking actions that that challenge for the long term, not just today or tomorrow, a 65-year relationship that’s at the core and character of this company”. Bloch concluded, “You need to agree on a fix. You both got us here, this is your mess, you fix it.”.

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