Ex-Gov. Goldschmidt lobbies against airline workers

Former Oregon Democratic Governor Neil Goldschmidt has been hired to co-chair a national industry coalition formed to lobby legislation that would weaken the collective bargaining rights of airline workers.

The group - Communities for Economic Strength Through Aviation (CESTA) - is headed by Susan Molinari, ex-Republican member of Congress from New York and includes Don Carty, chief executive officer of American Airlines, Leo Mullin, CEO of Delta Airlines, Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, Thomas J. Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association.

In addition to Goldschmidt, a former transportation secretary in the Carter Administration, Molinari has recruited former U.S. Senators Slade Gorton of Washington and Charles Robb of Virginia, and former U.S. Representatives Vic Fazio and Vin Weber to sit on the board and lobby on behalf of CESTA.

Molinari said the coalition has signed up 400 organizations that advocate a "best-bid" binding arbitration system in the airlines industry.

Organized labor adamantly opposes the change, and airline unions have made it a top priority fight in the 108th Congress.

Last week the Northwest Oregon Labor Council passed a resolution calling on Goldschmidt and others in CESTA who have had friendly relations with labor to reconsider their support of the program and legislation that would deteriorate collective bargaining rights.

"This is part of a campaign by the major air carriers to tilt the delicately balanced collective bargaining process in favor of airline management, thereby making it nearly impossible for labor-management disputes to be resolved at the bargaining table," said James Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters Union.

Lobbyists are calling CESTA a grass-roots effort because it has support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and scores of local tourism bureaus and chambers of commerce. They argue that aviation is critical to the economy, so everyone has a stake in the industry's economic health.

Take away the threat of a strike, Molinari argues, and that takes away many of the airlines' problems.

"These are airlines that say they're broke and are asking for enormous concessions from their workers, and they hire the most expensive lobbyists in town to push a bill that would weaken worker rights," said AFL-CIO spokesman Michael Buckley.

At the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, John Cornelius, president of Portland-based American Flight Attendants Council 39 at Alaska Airlines, said CESTA is mobilizing support for a bill similar to one introduced in 2001 by Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and co-sponsored by Trent Lott, R-Miss. Lott now heads the aviation subcommittee. McCain's bill lost momentum after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when Congress turned to more pressing security issues.

"They want to set up a baseball-style arbitration process for airline employees," Cornelius said. "They want CESTA to appear bipartisan, but they're only greasing the wheels so they can rip the guts out of the Railway Labor Act," Cornelius told the Northwest Labor Press.

Hallett, head of the Air Transportation Association, told a pro-reform group that prospects for airline industry change are much brighter now with Republican control of the House, Senate and the White House, combined with the publicity surrounding recent labor concession negotiations. "There is real opportunity for this legislation to move forward," she said.

Bargaining in the airline industry is administered by the National Mediation Board under the Railway Labor Act - which calls for direct negotiations, mediation and, if an agreement is not reached, the possibility of a strike or other job action. Even though in the last half-century this process has resulted in strike action in less than 3 percent of all cases (six strikes since 1992), airline management has attacked this process as antiquated and broken.

The McCain-proposed "winner-take-all" arbitration would remove all rights to strike in the airline industry based on the possibility that it could result in economic harm or a foreign policy breach of the U.S.

Under current law, a Presidential Emergency Board can be established only in a national transportation emergency. But under the McCain bill, a national emergency is not required - any minor inconvenience at a hub airport is enough to stop a strike, union officials said.

Under the bill, the secretary of transportation could declare an emergency when union negotiations stalled. Each side would then present its last best offer, and a panel of three arbitrators would choose between the proposals - with no middle ground, no compromise, no negotiation.

Any change in the Railway Labor Act would affect pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and other union workers for almost every airline. Unions representing those workers -the Transport Workers Union of America, Airline Pilots Association, Communications Workers of America, Association of Flight Attendants, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO - are "taking this very seriously," the AFL-CIO's Buckley said. "It's the highest priority of the airline unions."

"In another attempt to weaken organized labor, Congress is trying to pass a "winner-take-all" bill that would favor management in any dispute in the airline industry," Hoffa said.

"We are not happy that some of these 'traditional friends of labor' are heading up a campaign to eliminate collective bargaining rights for airline workers," Cornelius told NOLC delegates.

February 7, 2003 issue

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