American Airlines Case May Decide the Fate of Big Labor
June 27, 2012 - 12:45 pm
Writing at Slate, Matt Yglesias gets his facts and their logical outcome correct. Writing about the ongoing battle between the Communications Workers of America versus American Airlines, Yglesias writes that the case could end up having even more of a say in the ultimate fate of the labor movement than even Gov. Scott Walker’s historic victory over the recall attempt against him on June 5.
American Airlines is presently in bankruptcy and its financial situation is improving, but its union deals helped drive the airline into bankruptcy, much like what happened to the auto industry. The terrible economy and the increasingly annoying TSA also haven’t helped, but American, once the most profitable airline in the nation, is struggling. In fact, it is hoping to use bankruptcy to restructure the union-driven benefits and obligations that it cannot afford. Big Labor has other ideas, though, and has through the CWA pushed to force American to merge with US Air. US Air isn’t really in better financial shape than American, but CWA is negotiating with US Air to gain concessions from it as a result of the proposed merger. American doesn’t want the merger. The unions’ goal, then, is not financial viability, but preserving and expanding their power however they can.
CWA won a move to bring a union election to American that began June 2, but late last week a federal judge stopped that election on the grounds that a Senate deal between Republicans and Democrats raised the bar by which an election can be triggered. All of that leads to Yglesias’ valid point about the importance of the case:
Political polarization has given Republicans a clear-cut partisan interest in doing whatever they can to block unionization efforts, completely apart from questions of ideology and business interests. And the basic tactic of changing rules midstream and applying them retroactively can be used in an endless number of permutations to block major organizing efforts. The CWA and the organizing workers will, of course, appeal the decision. But the conservative majority on the Supreme Court proved last week that it’s no more sympathetic to the union cause than the rest of the American right. The result is a set of political and legal situations in which it’s difficult to see how any major private-sector organizing battle can be won unless the Democratic Party has a sudden change of heart and starts fighting equally aggressively on the other side of these issues.
Or force micro-unions and card check on US businesses to give Big Labor a lifeline, which is exactly what the Obama administration is doing. But taking Yglesias’ point about political polarization, the unions long ago decided to pitch their lot with one party and openly made themselves the enemy of the other. They made this choice for the sake of expediency and power, and used forced unionization and dues collection to make themselves a vital cog in Democrat money machine politics. The resulting Big Labor/Democrat alliance has helped drag that party far to the left, at the same time overall union membership in the US has declined sharply. Rising Republican power in blue union states makes for a natural threat to Big Labor, and the unions have no one but their own leaders to blame. Republicans have two obvious interests in freeing workers and their paychecks from the unions’ grip: One, because Big Labor’s demands make American companies less productive and less competitive internationally; and two, because the unions are funneling vast sums of money to the Democrats. The American Airlines case may end up being lose-lose for Big Labor. If they lose outright, as Yglesias notes they may face a ripple effect and lose other pending cases. If they “win” and force American to merge with US Air, the concessions Big Labor will have extracted from the resulting airline could doom that airline, discrediting Big Labor as nothing but a parasite that zombifies one host before moving on to the next.