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Travelers' Aid: Lufthansa Strikes and More (5/18/2001)

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We've been talking a lot on the show over the last few months about the labor situation affecting the travel industry here in the US. Earlier this year, it looked like things were really coming to a head with possible strikes at four of the five major airlines.

Now, however, things have started to calm down. Northwest reached an accord with its mechanics, and Delta's pilots have reached an agreement effectively ending the strike threat there. Still unresolved are disputes at both American Airlines and United - but overall, the situation is drastically different now than it was just a few weeks ago.

That's here in the US, though. If you're planning a trip to Europe, things are very different. Last week, talks completely broke down between management at Luftansa and its pilots. Already there have been two one-day strikes...and the pilots' union says it will continue job actions until the airline meets its requirement for big raises - at least 30 percent.

But there's a difference. The Luftansa union has said each of its strikes will last only 24 hours, and occur on Thursdays. In Ireland, the union representing train drivers have said nine such one-day strikes will happen over the next few months, centered on the Dublin-Belfast rail route. Anybody who travels in Italy, or Greece, knows that everyone from air traffic controllers to city bus drivers stage walkouts - all announced ahead of time, all lasting anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days.

It's a very different way of doing business...or not doing business, as the case may be. Here in the US, it's always down to the wire - will there be a strike, or won't there? In Europe, it's announced in advance, well publicized and, while inconvenient, at least you know it's going to happen.

Well, one of our own producers, Ben Adair, has been looking into the situation, and he joins me now....

Rudy: "So what's it come down to? Why are strikes so orderly over in Europe, and so, well, chaotic over here?"
Ben: "It comes down to two things. The first one is cultural. In Europe, employers simply will not replace striking workers. It just doesn't happen. It would be a public relations disaster. The gives the workers much more power to stage these short strikes. Also the laws are much different. Here, there's an intricate and extremely well-regulated dance that transportation workers, specifically, and management are required to do."
Rudy: "Right, there's mediation, arbitration, cooling off periods. And then, even when all that doesn't work - like in the case of Northwest and its mechanics earlier this year - the president can always step in and force the bargaining to continue."
Ben: "Exactly. I spoke with Ed Wytkind earlier this week. He's the executive director the Transportation Trades department for the AFL-CIO. He told me that even though things get drawn out and appear, you know, pretty scary sometimes, the system we've developed here works..."
Wytkind: "In the United States, the process is actually fairly predictable in the sense that you know that parties are forced to bargain for a long time without any sort of disruptions."
Ben: "That 97 percent of the time is over the last 30 years. It's a pretty impressive statistic."
Rudy: "It is. So the AFL-CIO thinks the system works, then? They're happy with it?"
Ben: "Well, not exactly. Here's what else Wytkind said:"
Wytkind: "There is a very clear and rigid process...and hopefully resolving their issues at the table."
Ben: "So negotiations take a long time, and you and I report that things are taking a long time, and according to Ed Wytkind with the AFL-CIO, it puts on a lot of pressure that doesn't help anybody."
Rudy: "But again, according to Ed, 97 percent of the time everything works out okay."
Ben: "Right. But that brings us back to Europe, where even though strikes are publicized ahead of time, and even though they usually only last a short time, they occur so much more often. In Paris right now, the people who take tickets at museums like the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay are engaged in a bitter dispute with the government. But instead of closing the museums, they're letting people in for free."
Rudy: "Well, sometimes, for free. Sometimes, they are closing the museums down. I guess the bottom line is, if you're going to Europe, read the papers most of the big travel sites on the web have "strike watch" pages...we've got the links below...and if you do get inconvenienced, take solace in the fact that it is only for a short time."
Ben: "And remember those Luftansa strikes, those happen on Thursdays."

If you'd like us to address your travel questions or concerns, send us an email. Or, you can snail-mail them in. The address is The Savvy Traveler, in care of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90007. Or call us at 888-SAV-TRAV.

Savvy Resources:

Here are those strikewatch web resources...

About.com Strike News: http://airtravel.about.com/travel/airtravel/library/strikes/blnewsstrike.htm

Expedia Strike Central: http://www.expedia.com/daily/edit/strikeinformation/default.asp

Travelocity Customer Alert: http://www.travelocity.com/info/cust_alert2/0,,TRAVELOCITY:,00.html?HPTRACK=cust_alert

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