Thursday, February 8, 2007
A federal judge yesterday ruled that Comair could unilaterally impose $15.8 million in wage concessions on its pilots, and simultaneously issued an injunction forbidding the pilots' union from striking. Comair says it will impose the cuts this weekend. The pilots' union says it will abide by the judge's order, but it wouldn't be surprised if many of its pilots simply decided to quit.
As I said last year when the Northwest Airlines flight attendants were threatening to strike, I think the court got the law wrong. Comair's argument, which the court adopted, is that Section 1113 of the bankruptcy code gives companies the right to nullify collective bargaining agreements through bankruptcy proceedings, and gives courts the authority to issue no-strike injunctions to facillitate the emergence from bankruptcy. But an earlier statute -- the Norris-LaGuardia Act -- prohibits federal courts from issuing labor injunctions, and there is nothing in the history of the Bankruptcy Act indicating that Congress intended to override the Norris-LaGuardia Act.
The judge's decision is also wrong as a matter of policy. The only bargaining power unions have is the power to (threaten a) strike. If that’s taken away, then the clock on American labor relations is turned back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when federal courts routinely issued injunctions prohibiting strikes, unions struck anyway because they had nothing left to lose, and the result often was at best major disruptions in production and at worst blood in the streets.
For more on yesterday's ruling and the parties' reaction to it, see Alexander Coolidge's article Comair Pilots Lose Key Round in today's Cincinnati Enquirer.