FROM WOODEN WINGS
On this, the fourth anniversary of the end of the 1985 pilots strike, one wonders if any lessons have been learned at United. Roger Hall thinks the pilots have learned one very important lesson. He says, "The 1985 strike showed the airline pilots of this country that they could successfully take a stand against powerful management, that they could take action, influence their futures, and not be helpless victims of the whims of airline managers."
The United strike effort clearly established a blueprint for successful labor battles in the deregulated airline industry. The technological and organizational capabilities developed in the 1985 strike represented the leading edge in labor's ability to positively influence the balance of power between management and labor. That advantage continues to improve. The Northwest and Eastern pilots have used our procedures and improved on them tremendously. "If and when it becomes our turn at bat again, we will improve upon it as well," says Dubinsky.
The United pilots were the first to realize that conducting a strike was basically a communications effort. Family Awareness, computerized communications between strike centers and pilots homes, computerized telephone-tree data bases, electronic voice messaging, and satellite teleconferences were the hallmark of the United strike. Coupled with the vast resources of ALPA's Major Contingency Fund, they continue as the benchmark for organized labor's last line of defense in the airline industry. Hopefully, it will serve as a major deterrent against those who see airline pilots and their contracts as easy targets.
Did management learn any lessons? Engleman is cautious. He says, "Except for a change in a couple of players, you still have much of the same board of directors, and virtually the same incestuous management structure. You've got Guyette at the top and largely the same group of flight managers. I don't know if those people have learned anything or not. But whether they have or not, you have to look at our current Sr. V.P. of Flight Operations Hart Langer, and to a lesser extent, Wolf. Their public utterances have questioned the integrity and certainly the business judgments of their predecessors. Hart, certainly, has been holding up a mirror to the corporation. He is beginning to show them how far they had gone from what was right and reasonable, and how far they had departed from sound management procedures and from the ethos and value system that you must have when you're running a corporation in a service industry."
Dubinsky looks at the question from a tactical view. He says, "Yes, I think they've learned some lessons. First of all, Wolf has learned that he should not make himself the point-man the way Ferris did, but instead hold back and reserve himself for the `white-knight' role toward the very end or else he'll come out as a specter. At least for the time being, it appears he is being very careful to stay out of the front lines and is using other people.
"Another thing they've learned is not to try and do things that are irritating to the pilots. They've learned their lesson in that regard. However, you're going to see repeatedly-month in and month out--`good deals' for us, neat little things for us such as jumpseats and the ALPA pin on managers. One must be careful that this doesn't lull the pilots into a false sense of well-being. And, I don't think you'll see them attempt to threaten us again, or do some of the other things Ferris did that were quite stupid.
"Most importantly," says Dubinsky, "they have learned that, if left no other choices, we will strike. But they've also learned some of our weaknesses and how to deal with us on emotional, strategic and tactical levels. In that regard, Wolf should never be underestimated."
Would Wolf be inclined to take the pilots on again? Cockrell says, "Not-unless they perceive weakness on our side. And that's what happened in 1985. Even though the pilots were solid as a rock, the company obviously didn't see that until it was too late. So it's crucial that the pilots ensure that management never again acquires an incorrect perception of our strength."
Roger Hall says he believes management didn't learn nearly as much as they should have. But he adds, "The one thing they should have learned out of all of this is how unproductive bad labor-management relations are, that it creates such a large liability for the corporation and that there's no future in it. It would be great to think what United could be producing right now if we hadn't even had the strike."