[FOUNTAIN]Sometimes unions take things too farAt the start of its negotiations with Asiana Airlines, its unionized pilots presented some 100 demands. Among them was that the company pay an “encouragement bonus” to pilots who smoked, in order to help them quit the habit, as well as to nonsmokers, to reward them for not smoking. Obviously, this startled the company. Typically in negotiations, one initially presents a considerable number of demands, with the intent of eventually reducing them during the course of negotiations. But they took it too far this time.
The first pilot strike in U.S. history occured in July 1919. Perhaps it was only because the strike was more than 80 years ago, but their demands were rather simple. All they asked was that laid-off workers be rehired, and that their annual flight time be reduced. At the time, the U.S. government had just started to open a transcontinental air mail route, and was engrossed in getting results; they pushed back at the pilots, giving them a hard time. One day it fired a pilot for refusing to fly in heavy fog. To protest that incident, the pilots went on strike. However, the strike was not effective, and the pilots had to stick to their unreasonable flight schedules. There were more than 200 crashes in nine years, and 80 pilots were killed or injured. But thanks to the success in opening a long-distance route connecting New York, Chicago and San Francisco, the U.S. air industry developed rapidly.
The air traffic controller strike in August 1981 made unprecedented demands. Demanding a 1.7-fold pay raise and a 20-percent reduction of flight hours, all 13,000 union members walked out. They demanded unreasonable things, confidently saying that their own union was the first to support the Republican Party.
But the union received unprecedented pressure from the government. President Ronald Reagan ordered the controllers to return within 48 hours, and fired the 11,350 who did not. Even Congress advised the president to allow the pilots to return to work, but President Reagan did not listen.
Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” deals with the end of irrational requests. The United States of America becomes a people’s republic, and the government continuously asks for pay raises and shorter working hours. In response, the companies go on strike instead of the employees.
Ten days have passed since the Asiana Airlines pilot strike began. Some say the pilots are consolidating their ties with athletic meetings and barbecue parties at Mount Sogni. Maybe the reason their faces look so bright in the pictures is that they have faith that President Roh Moo-hyun, unlike President Reagan, will not defy their expectations.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.