French pilots and flight attendants are reportedly threatening to strike over retirement benefits in the run-up to school holidays with Unac Union reportedly stating it was giving notice for the strike to the Prime Minister's Office and the Transport Ministry (La Tribune, 02-Feb-2011). Unac’s move follows a notice by SNPL Alpa for a strike from 04-Mar-2011 through 07-Mar-2011, a school-vacation weekend.
French pilots and flight attendants plan strikes
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Europe's aviation strike spike could signal a cyclical peak - with downturn to follow
One swallow does not make a spring and nor does a rash of aviation strike news guarantee a turning point for the aviation industry. But the signs are ominous. In the month of Jun-2016 (to 20-Jun-2016), there have been 136 articles on CAPA's website mentioning the word 'strike'. This compares with 81 for the first 20 days of Jun-2015. For 2016 so far (1-Jan-2016 to 20-Jun-2016), the 's' word has occurred in 594 articles – about 20% more than in the same period in each of the past two years. If this rate continues, 2016 could be the biggest year for strike-related articles since before the global financial crisis.
The vast majority of the Jun-2016 articles – 80% – relate to Europe. A significant source is air traffic control disputes, particularly French ATC. There have also been strikes and/or strike threats involving airport workers and ground handlers. Among European airlines, Air France has generated the most coverage for its ongoing dispute with its pilots, and it may also face a cabin crew strike. Lufthansa has not yet faced a strike by its employees this year, but has not yet reached new agreements with pilots or cabin crew after industrial action last year.
History tells us that labour's demands grow as profits rise. The apparent increase in industrial action this year could be a signal of an approaching peak in the airline profit cycle. There are other causes of unrest, such as impending French labour legislation, but the correlation reflects some history.
US airlines hold tense contract talks: straining labour relations as pilots demand market pay rates
Just as the magnet of airline profitability is attracting investors, the same magnetic fields are proving to be irresistible forces for labour. As a consequence, some major US airlines remain bogged down in contentious labour negotiations that have resulted in a swarm of negative publicity for those companies. The management teams of airlines such as Southwest Airlines and Delta are attempting to navigate the conclusion of labour deals that offer fair compensation and benefits to employees, while at the same time making declarations to shareholders and investors about a transformed industry delivering consistent and record profits.
The continuing labour turbulence for Delta, Southwest and Hawaiian reflects the impatience of employees, anxious not to be left behind as airline profits grow. Those airlines face the challenge of negotiating contracts that reward labour for its contribution to stable profitability, while also ensuring that the productivity in those agreements creates a minimum level of cost inflation.
Stakes are high for both management and labour in the current round of contract negotiations, which means that collective bargaining could drag on for many months. As airline executives continue to reiterate their desire to reach new contracts, labour’s rhetoric for market rate pay is growing stronger.
(Note: this report was compiled prior Southwest Airlines reaching a tentative agreement with management on 29-Aug-2016)