Friday, March 19, 2010

Large British Airways Strike Looming Tomorrow

British-Airways-flights John Campbell-Orde, a regular reader of the Workplace Prof Blog, writes us to let us know that there is a potentially enormous strike by Unite members against British Airways, one which may involve international cooperation from other unions, including possibly some in the U.S.

John tells us that public opinion in Britain appears to be largely against the potential strikers, with blame being placed on union members for not reaching agreement with British Airways (which is calling for large concessions), rather than careful consideration of whether British Airways is taking an unreasonable position, or even bargaining in bad faith by withdrawing an earlier proposal that Unite had rejected but appears open to reconsidering to avert a strike.

I certainly agree with John that striking always puts unions and their members in an awkward spot, especially those unions that provide services directly to the public. John writes in this regard:

People seem to forget that "it takes two to tango": to blame the union, unless its position is clearly unreasonable, for striking is to ignore the fact that the employer has effectively equal control over whether a strike occurs. It can prevent a strike by accepting the union's proposed contract, just as the union can avoid striking by accepting the employer's proposed contract. These are, after all, bilateral negotiations. Anyone involved in labor relations knows that most union members are very reluctant to strike. In doing so they damage themselves quite severely economically, at least in the short term. One might infer from this, and from BA withdrawing its earlier proposal, that under the circumstances perhaps Unite should strike in order to best represent its members interests.

Of course, John wrote this before the latest developments this morning.  As on Noon EDT in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a full strike is scheduled for Saturday after the parties could not come to an agreement.  WSJ writes:

Willie Walsh, British Airways PLC's chief executive, is no stranger to the tense, high-profile world of negotiating with trade unions.

"My sole focus is that British Airways continues to fly" he said to reporters Friday after the Unite union said it plans to go ahead with a planned cabin-crew strike Saturday after talks ended without an agreement. Mr. Walsh, who has set up contingency plans that will allow two-thirds of booked BA passengers to fly during the stike, said he isn't trying to break the union, or undermine organized labor.

Unite's joint general-secretary, Tony Woodley, countered that the talks broke down because "hawks" within British Airways had won, and said Mr. Walsh, was looking for a "war" with Unite's members.

It would be the first strike that has hit the airline since 1997 and the first since Mr. Walsh became CEO in 2005.

Look for updates on this blog post and developments warrant.


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