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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/17/10

Pilots Triumphant Fighting Spirit

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For the first time in a long time, underpaid, overworked employees of a profitable American airline went on strike and emerged victorious.

Spirit Airlines, the ultra-discount carrier based in Miramar, Florida was forced to make as yet unspecified concessions in order to settle a five-day strike by its pilots, who were represented by ALPA, the Air Line Pilots Association.

Note that I'm one of the unlucky folks whose Spirit flights were canceled this week. In fact, it turns out that Spirit will be resuming service just hours after my flight had been scheduled for takeoff. I was inconvenienced and disappointed, but you know what? I blame it entirely on the greedy, overreaching management of Spirit Airlines. I applaud the pilots for standing up to them, and am willing to take my lumps if it means that American Labor wins a fair fight for once. And it looks like they have.

Spirit had hoped to play hardball with the pilots' union by contracting with other airlines to keep its own ticketed passengers in the air during the strike. But their plan fell through when a strange and stirring thing happened. Pilots at other carriers refused to handle any of those Spirit flights, in essence refusing to cross a picket line in the sky.

And so on the fifth day of being totally grounded, Spirit was forced to come to an agreement with the people who just happen to keep them flying high in the first place. Imagine that.

Before any unfortunate knee-jerk anti-union sentiments come into play here, consider a few essential facts. In an ailing airline industry, Spirit managed to emerge in 2009 as the most profitable carrier in the United States, with profits of over $80-million. Yet their pilots were paid significantly less than other major airlines, including other discount outfits like Jet Blue.

In fact, Spirit's airline pilots have had their under-average salaries frozen for four years now. Just before going on strike last weekend, Spirit finally offered them a deal that would have brought them up to industry average - over the course of the next five years. The pilots, because they were organized into and represented by a union and knew they had collective bargaining rights, said No to that insulting offer, and went on strike.

And since pilots for all the other air carriers understood that Spirit was riding high in large part on the backs of its own underpaid pilots, there was no "scab" labor available to bail Spirit out, no strike-breakers willing to do the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. As a result, Spirit was forced to do the right thing, and reach a more equitable settlement with the people who fly us safely from point A to point B and back.

This is one hell of a good example of why we need to support, grow and strengthen the American Labor Movement in all sectors of our economy where corporate profit-seeking has taken precedence over common sense and compassion, for far too long.

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Daniel Tilson was born and raised in New York City, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, and New York University's Film and Television School, with a double major in Film/TV Production & Broadcast Journalism. Tilson established his own first (more...)
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