A Union Divided

By Larry Teren

Times are a changing but apparently not for those who belong to unions. To wit, two cases:

1. Gary, my kid brother, is a world traveler but not a jet setter. On average he takes a half dozen overseas flights a year but for not pleasure. He lives on the other side of the ocean and comes to the United States to attend business seminars as the most intelligently organized events are still done here.

While visiting last week on his way home from San Francisco he had a conversation with another frequent flier, one who does his domestically. They were comparing the quality of the various airline services. Gary mentioned that he noticed that most flight attendants act like they are going through the motions. The other fellow, a lawyer, pointed out that there is a very good reason. He said they are underpaid. He said that many don’t even make $25,000 a year. They are not given full time work, and do not get many opportunities for overtime or volunteering for slots that are otherwise not popular.

Gary checked it out later and mentioned to me that from what he read, our lawyer friend was not far from the truth. So, I did my own research. There are many long-time flight attendants who do get decent pay but the more recently hired are not paid so much considering the weird hours and work conditions with which they deal. Part of this has to do with the consolidation and merger of airlines. The newer and still smaller ones are working with less assets to go along with lower overhead.

According to one airline which is not that new but without a major hub of its own- they guarantee 75 flight hours a month or an average of less than twenty hours a week to flight attendants. For someone who has managed to still be working for the company two years later, their base pay is $18,792.00 a year. They do get a per diem that bring it up another $3600. This is an airline that provides the overage requests for the big airlines and they do a lot of business. Comforting to know that, huh?

The industry philosophy for this is that most flight attendants agree with the airlines that the job is at best part time work. No one would want to shlep from city to city every day, forty hours a week. It would be a burnout. Unless, of course, you are a pilot and presumably are making a lot
more money. Right? If you recall, last year a commuter plane carrying several passengers went down near Albany New York. It was piloted by someone making very little money and who had very little experience. A flight attendant survey for a variety of air lines serving the Chicago market shows that the median salary is $35,500. It does not indicate the number of weekly work hours for that figure.

The union angle to this story is that one of the big merger operations among airlines still has a
lot of acrimony to deal with many months after the combining of staffs. Apparently, even though the flight attendants wear outfits that reflect the logo of the dominant partner, those who work for the other partner still wear their old wings. It has something do with each airlines having their own flight attendants association and one does not want to give up the rights that they acquired through collective bargaining. Until then, even though they all work for the same unified company, some attendants are protected by one union, and the other by a different one.

2. While picking up Ma the other day to take her on an errand, the garbage truck was there to
take away the trash. We both immediately noticed that there were three men with that truck. One was the driver who stayed in the cab while the other two moved the big plastic containers to the back of the truck and hooked them one after the other to a hoisting device that dumped all the contents inside.

For quite a while the City of Chicago has talked about reducing the team from three to two garbage collectors per truck. Especially since there is hardly any lifting. Good luck going up against that union. I’m thinking of starting a union of blog writers. Even if the vast majority of us aren’t able to monetize the blog sites for which we write (or is it- for which it stands?) , I figure to make a killing collecting union dues. Don’t mess with me ’cause I know three guys who will dump garbage on your lawn. Actually, one watches while the other two do the nasty.

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