Observance of law is remedy for pilots’ ills

Thousands of airline passengers were stranded last week as pilots from American Airlines staged an impromptu sickout. Despite being ordered back to work by U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall, pilots continued their illegal non-strike. As a result, the Allied Pilots Association, the union representing American pilots, was appropriately fined by Kendall. Willful disregard for federal law must be punished to maintain a civilized society.
American pilots are protesting wage differences between themselves and pilots from Reno Air, a small West Coast carrier recently acquired by the AMR Corp., American’s parent company.
The illegal strike began on Feb. 5, when American pilots began calling in sick, forcing the cancellation of numerous flights. On Thursday of last week, lawyers for the airline went to court to halt the slowdown. American argued that the sickout was a violation of federal law, which prohibits pilots from striking without going through a regimented negotiation process. Kendall agreed and ordered the pilots back to work. But the sickout did not end there.
Many American pilots defied the court action and continued the sickout. That move led Kendall to hold the union in contempt. Calling the actions of American pilots a “shakedown,” he ordered the union to set aside a $10 million bond to pay damages to the airline at a later date. Kendall called this an initial amount for fines that might go higher as the union will be liable for all damages American suffered as a result of the sickout.
In addition, Kendall individually faulted union President Richard LaVoy and Vice President Brian Mayhew, ordering them to set aside $10,000 and $5,000 respectively for their failure to cooperate with the ruling issued earlier that week.
These rulings are important victories for the rule of law where it applies to U.S. labor disputes. By willfully disregarding the judge’s ruling earlier in the week, the pilots engaged in extortionist tactics.
Union supporters often fault management for unfair practices. Imagine the airline deciding to unilaterally cut all pilots’ salaries in half, disregarding the contract that had been agreed to by both sides. Unions would praise a court decision against the company. However, the real issue is not workers fighting management; it is acting in accordance with the law. The sickout broke the law, and the union was punished. Had management committed an equally egregious offense, it, too, would have been justly punished.
It is important that all sides in a labor dispute adhere to the law. This past week’s events demonstrate that, without rules, chaos erupts, affecting not just the union and the company, but also the public. Union members, as well as business executives, should view this case as an example of what not to do. By ignoring the law and acting in such a cavalier manner, the Allied Pilots Union has shown itself to be an organization less interested in bargaining in good faith than it is in sticking it to management. A higher level of decorum should be expected from a union that represents such highly skilled employees.