We are still a long way from kumbaya around the campfire, but labor unions at Air France have dialed down the the harsh rhetoric and threats to strike against the new leader.
Last week I wrote about the ice cold reception that newly-appointed Air France/KLM CEO Ben Smith received from Air France union groups. Among other things, his lack of “Frenchness” was questioned. Unions openly speculated he could not represent them and warned of imminent strikes.
This week, Smith’s compensation package was made public. He will earn a maximum of 3.25 million euros plus another 1 million euros if specific performance goals are met. I thought for sure that we’d see unions express (faux) outrage at how obscene Smith’s compensation was while they were fighting to “survive” but that did not occur. One union official told Reuters:
Beyond the economic and social context, it’s not that shocking that the leader of a company like Air France-KLM should command a salary on a par with our main competitors.
I’d call that a good reaction. Additionally, Air France pilots have decided not to strike until giving Smith a chance. Another union official told Reuters, “We’ll wait to meet him.”
I view this as a case of the the unions realizing they went too far in their protests last week. Rather than scaring Smith into compliance, they just appeared to be jingoistic fools. Unions will soon present a list of demands to Smith.
Air France Stable, KLM Strikes?
Meanwhile, the relatively stable pilots union at KLM is threatening a strike over works hours within four weeks.
The union wants the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM to start hiring new flight personnel as soon as possible, to give pilots more time in between flights. KLM said it is already recruiting new staff, but that it is impossible to meet all the union’s demands.
KLM pilots claim they have increased workload without corresponding pay increases in order to make the company profitable. Now that Air France/KLM is profitable, especially due to the strength of the KLM side, they want better working conditions.
The problem for Smith is that both the Air France and KLM sides want growth. KLM has already grown at the expense of Air France and failing to add flights to Paris (where airport taxes are now lower) may trigger union action on the other side.
I’m happy to see the French unions step back from the brink. Hopefully Smith can do what he did at Air Canada: foster labor harmony in an equitable way for all sides. I’m still skeptical.