Aviation Labor Relations In a World Economy

Air Line Pilot, November/December, p.34

Negotiations over a possible air transport service agreement between the United States and the European Union broke off in June without an agreement. The two sides are awaiting the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections and the appointment of a new European Commission before resuming talks.

A number of proposals under consideration in the negotiations could have significant consequences for airline employees, and for flight crews in particular. As a result, ALPA has been, and will continue to be, involved in the negotiations every step of the way.

At an International Aviation Club luncheon held September 21 in Washington, D.C., ALPAís president, Capt. Duane Woerth, addressed a broad spectrum of aviation policy decision-makers and industry leaders about the negotiations.

Capt. Woerth made clear that U.S. laws and regulations would have to be significantly changed for the European Unionís proposed Open Aviation Area (OAA) to be considered.

The following is a synopsis of ALPAís recommendations, which Capt. Woerth presented.

The proposed OAA holds sweeping implications for the regulatory framework under which labor-management relations pertaining to international operations is conducted.

The centerpiece of the EU proposal is the elimination of U.S. and EU restrictions on foreign ownership and control of airlines. However, the U.S. Railway Labor Act (RLA) does not address the labor issues that would be created by transnational airline groups operating in multiple domestic markets.

Elimination of the ownership and control requirement would mean that an airline holding company could own airlines in multiple countries. With no international labor framework in place to allow employees to bargain collectively over wages and working conditions, the holding company could decide to use one affiliated airline over another, based on which countryís labor or social laws are most favorable to managementís side or which employees were the most willing to accede to their managementís demands.

Apart from issues raised by the U.S./EU negotiations, a legislative loophole presenting similar labor relations issues currently exists under the RLA and must also be remedied. An existing National Mediation Board rule states that the RLA does not apply to foreign-based employees of U.S. airlines. Some courts have agreed with respect to foreign-based flight attendants, at least to the extent that they work exclusively on flights outside the United States.

Just as the EUís proposed OAA would make possible, this lack of RLA protection could give airline managements the ability to operate under the laws of countries of their choosing, based on which has the most advantageous policies for management. Both FedEx and Atlas now have pilot domiciles in other countries, and the practice could become more common in the future.

ALPA believes that Congress clearly intended that foreign-domiciled flight crews of U.S. airlines would be covered by the RLA. At the time that this provision was enacted, two of the largest U.S. airlines, Pan American World Airways and Panagra, flew international routes exclusively, a fact almost certainly known to Congress because the two airlines held many of the first air mail contracts that the U.S. Post Office awarded.

As opportunities for U.S. carriers to conduct international operations increase, ALPA must seek to ensure that collective-bargaining rights that have formed the bedrock of the U.S. labor movement are not eroded.

Capt. Woerth concluded his remarks by calling on the U.S. Congress to confirm that the RLA applies to U.S. air carriers wherever they do business. This important action could help pave the way for progress in EU/U.S. policy negotiations.