ORGANIZED LABOR CALLS A PERSON who crosses a picket line a scab, an ugly expression to describe what labor considers an ugly practice. A scab, as defined by organized labor, is one who acts in self-interest, with little or no respect for the welfare of workers generally.
The Air Line Pilots Association earns the title scab in reverse for its actions during the recent drama over Frontier Airlines. The pilots' union, in particular ALPA's United Airlines chapter, acted out of self-interest, with little regard for the welfare of fellow workers at Frontier and the cities that Frontier served.Financially troubled Frontier had to file for bankruptcy recently when its parent, People Express Inc., failed to conclude an agreement to sell Frontier to United for $146 million. United pilots were the chief obstacle to the deal. They stubbornly resisted United's offer to raise the pay scale of Frontier pilots to the much higher level of United pilots over five years, insisting that pay scales be merged within 18 months.
The union dislikes two-tier wage schedules in general. In this case, the United pilots worried that having Frontier pilots working for lower pay for five years would jeopardize its plans to eliminate United's existing two-tier wage scale when the pilots' current contract expires in 1988.
The concern was legitimate, but in focusing on this issue the union lost sight of the broader picture and disregarded the welfare of fellow pilots.
Frontier has been in serious trouble for some time. It's been losing an
average $10 million a month, far more than parent People Express could handle. Its survival, and thus the jobs of its 4,700 employees, including 550 pilots, clearly depended on People Express selling Frontier to someone bigger and stronger.
United saw an opportunity in the regional carrier, but only if certain conditions were met. Company officials said repeatedly their five-year wage proposal to the pilots was the best they could offer and still hope to turn Frontier around.
The union chose to believe otherwise and held out for a better deal. Even after Frontier grounded all its planes and closed up shop, the union was fashioning new proposals and criticizing United for refusing to return to the bargaining table.
United had no reason to bargain or accept a contract it did not like. These were not normal contract talks. Frontier was sliding fast and United's existing services were unaffected by the outcome of the talks.
Ironically, those most directly affected, the employees of Frontier, had no real role in the negotiations. From all reports, they would have accepted United's offer, which would have nearly doubled most of their salaries over five years. Instead of a raise, they lost their jobs, and no one was more responsible for that than their brothers and sisters at United.