I'm not sure if it's just a matter of having nothing left to lose, or just getting tired of making so many concessions, but it seems to me that U.S. airline labor unions are pushing back much harder this year against demands for more cost cuts (and less job security). In that way, they seem to mirror a declaration U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama has made in reference to eight years of Bush administration policies: "Enough is enough."
Midwest's pilots are a case in point. They are fighting back hard against its management's plans to finance and restructure the airline by dropping the majority of its 717 fleet and contracting with Republic Airways to fly 12 of its 76-seat Embraer E-170 jets for Midwest instead. The union objections have gone beyond tough words to actual action (AWIN subscriber links), filing a grievance to try to keep the carrier from proceeding with its plans even though it is a key component of the financing that is keeping it alive.
They've also written letters to and picketed in front of the Milwaukee headquarters of three of the airline's biggest corporate customers: MillerCoors, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and U.S. Bank. They persuaded Obama to write a letter to management on their behalf (his campaign contracted with Midwest to provide charter service this year). And they have launched a website protesting Midwest's plans and seeking public support.
Perhaps Midwest pilots just figure that, on track to lose nearly three-quarters of their jobs and asked to cut as much as 65% of their pay, they have nothing left to lose. If a union gives up a huge amount of pay and benefits and yet still cannot promise its members job security, what does it have left to fight for?
The same dynamic may also be in play at Frontier, another financially troubled carrier asking its unions to give back more than they already have given so far. The Teamsters, which represents Frontier's mechanics and aircraft cleaners, have been locked in a bitter fight with the airline in bankruptcy court, where the airline has asked the judge to let it toss out the union contract and impose its own terms if it cannot reach a voluntary agreement (see Aviation Daily's subscriber-only story here. Among those terms, like at Midwest, Frontier wants the union to acquiesce to an outsourcing plan that could eliminate the jobs of 130 mechanics, which comes to about half the total number employed and about a third of the union's membership.
At Spirit, the union for the airline's pilots filed a lawsuit against the carrier in early September, accusing management of repeatedly violating the collective bargaining agreement by unilaterally changing the terms of the contract (subscriber-only story here.)
At United, the pilots union has been on a crusade against President and CEO Glenn Tilton, calling for his ouster and, absent that, a pay cut. It has a website devoted to the cause that continually blasts Tilton and calls for public support of its position.
Of course, more resistance does not necessarily translate into more effectiveness. Tilton is still leading United, Midwest has begun its transition to Republic-operated aircraft, the Spirit lawsuit has not progressed yet and there's still no resolution on the Frontier-Teamsters dispute. All of this stiffer union resistance could prove futile. I just think it's worth noting that, increasingly, they do seem to be fighting back with more ferocity.