I read George Wills' column in the Sunday edition of the Empire ("Converging calamities for airlines) in which he outlines the variety of reasons for the financial troubles of the airline industry. Predictably, he takes a broad swipe at the unions that represent the workers of those airlines. Also, predictably, he ignores the recent revelations about the pending American Airlines bankruptcy.
Will notes that US Airways "cut its pension costs by $700 million." The pilots get their retirement cut to $28,500 a year at age 60, at least in half, while 45 American Airlines executives will be guaranteed their pensions even if the company goes into bankruptcy under a deal they made in October. American also agreed to pay retention bonuses to six top executives equal to two times their base pay if they stay through January 2005. The unions agreed to concessions totaling $1.8 billion over the next six years to help keep the airline afloat before the news of the bonuses broke.
Will is right in his estimate that the airline industry will probably have to contract more. It will come at great cost to many hard-working people in this country. Maybe even a few of those executives will lose their jobs but I don't imagine you'll see them in the unemployment line. There has been a lot of talk lately about "supporting our troops." We all hope they'll be coming home soon, but to what? Low-paying jobs and not much hope of retiring with enough to get by on?
My grandfather came home from fighting in France in World War I and was a Teamster in Minneapolis from the '30s and into the '60s. He lived through some of the worst labor riots this country has ever seen in May 1934. Men who had fought for this country and for the world came home from the war and were shot down in the streets of their own hometown because they stood up and demanded a fair wage and fair working conditions.
All this while the owners and executives got richer off of their labor. I sure hope we're not headed down the same path.