Workers' Rights in the Balance
Capt. Woerth’s Labor Day Message

Once again, the United States celebrates Labor Day weekend. While American troops fight for other nations’ citizens’ freedoms, American workers’ freedoms and rights have reached a new low watermark. Throughout the long, torturous road through more than 20 airline bankruptcies since 9/11, one gigantic legal question has been hanging over airline workers’ heads like a surreal guillotine: Do airline workers have the right to strike if management imposes new terms and conditions on them and the courts throw out their contract?

The rest of the free world believes that the answer is an obvious “yes.” However, this is the 21st-century American experience, where the answer is not so clear. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the Department of Justice took the side of Northwest Airlines management in court and argued that airline workers have no such right to strike. The judge at least temporarily agreed and enjoined a strike by Northwest flight attendants, who have labored under imposed terms and conditions for nearly a month.

This has the same effect as a temporary injunction, because the judge will not make his final ruling until a later date. But this ruling ignores the Norris-LaGuardia Act and makes a mockery of the Railway Labor Act and any sense of justice. The implications to Mesaba and Comair are ominous indeed. Future airline bankruptcies could leave workers as latter-day indentured servants with no rights of recourse against their masters during bankruptcy – if this injunction is permanently granted.

Let me be perfectly clear. While these draconian decisions and questions were avoided in the other airline bankruptcies, every single airline management made astoundingly aggressive concessionary demands, precisely because those managements believed that, at the end of the day, the Justice Department would rescue them if workers tried to strike. Managements always believed that an injunction would save them. They always believed that the fix was in.

If the Justice Department legal arguments didn’t convince a judge, the Department of Transportation could always declare a transportation emergency. Or the Labor Department could make up a fantasy labor emergency—anything to strip working Americans of their rights. The outcome of this case matters to every airline worker in the United States.

As Labor Day approaches, all pilots must be clear-eyed realists and admit the astounding amount of raw political power and government leverage that has been used against us since 9/11. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Every one of us must get involved and support candidates who will work to restore our rights and return working Americans to their place of honor, so that Labor Day will be more than just a three-day weekend. Candidates from both parties must be held accountable. They are either part of the solution, or they are part of the problem.