Merriam Webster defines a labor union as, “an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions.” Unions have been a part of the United States economy for over 130 years (Cussen,2019) and have caused much controversy. Many aviation companies are unionized, while on the other hand, many other companies are anti-union, it all depends on a vote from the companies employees, making unions a democracy. Types of skilled workers in a company may be unionized, while other workers in that company may not be as well. This is evident in companies like Delta Air Lines and JetBlue who have unionized pilots but have flight attendants that are not in a union. The arguments over whether to have a union, or to not have a union, come down to a vote from the employees of a company. Depending on who is asked, they may support or discourage the unionization of a company for numerous reasons. Some of the reasons to support unions include giving workers higher wages, giving workers a voice, protecting the time and benefits of workers, and improves the conditions of the workplace. Reasons to be anti-union include hindering a companies flexibility, incorporating the possibility of strikes, lowers worker productivity, and increases a company’s cost of production. (“unions begin with you,” 2019)
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The main reasons that Unions exist is to protect workers and make sure their employers are treating workers the way they deserve to be treated, meaning that workers get paid at higher rates. This is the number one selling point that Unions promote, when trying to join a company and receive the votes of workers to protect them. According to the Association of Flight Attendants- CWA (AFA-CWA), their union negotiates the best and most flexible flight attendant contracts when it comes to maintaining and improving wages. This is supported by the fact that United Air Lines flight attendants make about 45,000 dollars a year, and are in a union, whereas Delta Air Lines flight attendants make an average of $41,000 dollars a year and they are not in a union.(Glassdoor,2019) Despite this, Delta flight attendants still annually vote against having a union. This may be due to the fact that unions make their money by taking money out of the paychecks of the employees they protect, or just because Delta Airlines has been known to encourage their flight attendants and other employees to vote against them.(Valle, 2019)
For a union to promise employees a higher pay, translates to the fact that companies must charge the people more for their services. This is a large reason as to why certain companies are anti-union. The competition of a company becomes decreased when they join a union. This happens because when the union promises higher wages, a company must charge customers a higher price, eventually forcing the company to lose customers. No company wants to lose customers, so why join the union when they can keep customers happy and coming back for services.
Another big factor that makes employees enjoy the idea of belonging to a union is the benefits, outside of monetary means, that union workers receive. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the umbrella organization over most of the country’s unions, promises to provide consistent schedules with no mandatory overtime, flexible schedules, family-friendly and safe work environments, paid vacations, reimbursements for fitness exercises, usually a decent health care plan, and much more. To any employee all of these benefits sound great, but the toll that this takes on a company can be heavy on the financial spectrum. Providing workers with all of these extra benefits through a union can lead to the same downfalls of a company explained above, inhibiting a company from growing.
Although unions affect the monetary side of workers and employers, unions also affect the structure of a company. Under a union all workers are protected equally, even if their quality of work is dysfunctional. Many employees think that unions protect lazy workers and give them benefits for not going above and beyond in their service or skills. (Reddy, 2019) Promotions based on quality of work do not exist in unions, since everyone is treated equally. The promise that an employee will always be protected no matter how they work makes productivity go down since an employee has nothing like a promotion to strive for. This is another reason as to why companies do not like unions because a company obviously wants their employees to strive for success in the workforce. Employees who agree with their employers and wanted to be valued based on their quality of work are also anti-union. They claim that they work very hard and do not want their lazy counterparts to receive the same benefits for a lower quality of work.
Looking more at the pilot side of unions, almost all commercial pilots belong to a union, unlike flight attendants where only 21 airlines have unions. (About ALPA,2019) The union that represents the largest amount of pilots is called the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) and represents 63,000 pilots, from 34 large aviation companies in the United States and Canada. ALPA has existed since 1931 and it’s number one commitment to pilots is to ensure safety through all branches of aviation. A recent example of ensuring safety for pilots and passengers includes setting science-based fatigue rules for pilots, so that there is no excuse for being too exhausted to fly an aircraft. The ALPA also improved pilot training and stiffened the minimum requirements for new pilots through the Federal Aviation Administration. Lastly, placing safer technology into aircraft has been a recent priority of the ALPA as well, simplifying the job of a pilot. This association has worked to name airline travel the safest mode of transportation in the world. Another key thing that the ALPA does is investigate aircraft accidents. This union has a large training center, called the Accident Investigation Course, focused on accident investigation and gives students the skills to deal with cockpit voice recorders, flight data recorders, accident notification and dispatch, gives them a heap of knowledge about bloodborne pathogens, and much more. These skills are necessary to have when determining the causation of a failed aircraft flight.
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According to the Air Line Pilots Association International, pilots enjoy being under their protection mainly because all of the decisions the ALPA make are based off of the voices of the pilots. This is true for unions in all branches of work. Through unions pilots can negotiate their own contracts and discuss issues of concern with their company if a mediator is in place. The chance to have the voice of a worker heard is appealing to employees and makes one feel as though they matter and are represented fairly. Pilots also enjoy being under a union because they are protected by an attorney if they are ever in a situation where they may need one. Situations where an attorney may be needed include little and inconsequential communication errors or slight pilot deviation form Air Traffic Control commands. Although these mistakes should definitely be avoided pilots have been reported for the smallest issue that expanded into a larger issue for that pilot, requiring the need for an attorney. (Pope, 2012) Companies dislike the fact that employees have easy access to legal protection because it leads to a larger number of lawsuits against the company. Workers are also legally protected by strikes if they are in union. This means that an employee can “take off” work and protest against their company, but not be allowed to lose their job. This is obviously appealing to workers, but a fear for employers. Lastly, according to the ALPA, pilots are required to retire by age 65. With costly training to become a pilot, working for many years after being hired is the goal of many airline pilots, but being forced to retire at age 65 may be a struggle for some. The ALPA protects the retirement plans the workers it represents as well, making sure that workers continue to get paid fair amounts for their old services and that their company holds up their end of the deal in a retirement plan.
Today, according to Dan Kopf, journalists for Quartz, the effectiveness of unions is steadily declining. In fact, the percentage of American workers that belong to labor unions is the lowest it has ever been, since data first started being collected in the 1980’s. 10.5% of Americans belong to labor unions today compared to the 30% of workers who belonged to unions around 50 years ago. This percentage is declining at a steady pace annually. Kopf argues that this is due to the growth of companies that include healthcare, hospitality jobs, and the restaurant business, whose employees have never had high unionization rates. This trend may start to be true for flight attendants, but pilots becoming anti-union is probably out of the picture. Pilots will most likely remain unionized due to the safety precautions that unions make for the airlines. In conclusion, the existence of a union all comes down to whether or not employees want to pay unions a monthly price to give them protection in the long run. The democracy of a union is what makes it appealing to employees, but if the majority of employees continue to vote against unions, they may continue to make their way out of American society.
- Cussin, M. (2019)Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0113/the-history-of-unions-in-the-united-states.asp
- Unions begin with You. (2019) Retrieved from https://aflcio.org/what-unions-do
- “Delta Airlines Flight Attendant Hourly Pay” Retrieved from https://www.glassdoor.com/Hourly-Pay/Delta-Air-Lines-Delta-Flight-Attendant-Hourly-Pay-E197_D_KO16,38.htm
- Reddy,C. (2019) “Why employers don’t like unions” Retrieved from https://content.wisestep.com/employers-unions/
- Delta told its workers to buy video games instead of unionizing. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/5/10/18564745/delta-anti-union-video-game-poster
- “About ALPA” (2019) Retrieved from https://www.alpa.org/about-alpa/our-pilot-groups
- Pope, S. (2012)“Why should a pilot lawyer up” Retrieved from https://www.flyingmag.com/blogs/fly-wire/when-should-pilot-lawyer/
- Kopf, D. (2019) “Union membership in the US keeps on falling, like almost everywhere else” Retrieved from https://qz.com/1542019/union-membership-in-the-us-keeps-on-falling-like-almost-everywhere-else/
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