Don’t mistake my crocodile tears for a complete lack of empathy. I understand how hard it is to lose what you have worked so long and hard to build…and yet at the same time, I don’t know what the latest Alitalia protests in Rome were aiming to realistically accomplish.
Alitalia Flight Attendants Engage In Beautiful But Pointless Charade In Rome
Alitalia became ITA on October 15th and although I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the Alitalia brand, ITA intends to adapt its own branding and livery in the weeks ahead. But the branding and livery are not the big story: the big story is that ITA hopes to be profitable by running a far leaner operation than Alitalia. That starts by a maintaining a leaner work force.
Unions failed to reach an agreement with ITA over labor conditions for employees hired by ITA from Alitalia. In total, about 3,000 of Alitalia’s former 10,000 employees were hired. These employees, in large measure, are being paid significantly lower wages for what will amount to the same work.
That is nothing to celebrate. For those who gave their career to Alitalia, what are they supposed to do now? There is no doubt their quality of life will change and that is nothing to gloat about. Indeed, it is something we should mourn.
But Alitalia lost billions of dollars for years and years. From 1946 to 2021 it reported only a single year of profit, in 1998! Were taxpayers simply supposed to subsidize it indefinitely? Even with the economic multiplier effect of a national airline, every reasonable airline analyst came to a common conclusion: Alitalia had far too many employees and management’s inability to curb that problem helped to sink the airline.
Granted, that wasn’t the only problem: competition from both Italy’s growing high-speed rail network as well as low-cost and network carriers in Europe also played a crucial role in Alitalia’s collapse. So did its aging fleet and mounting debt servicing costs. But there were too many employees: that’s just not debatable.
That did not stop ex-Alitalia flight attendants, however, from protesting in Rome this week:
There’s a certain element of beauty and dignity in the choreographed flash-mob protest, one of many recent protests to protest the sale and dissolving of Alitalia.
But I use the term “crocodile tears” because there was no other solution, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, the writing was on the wall for years. Employees who stayed with the company did so under the impression that the government would continue to bailout the airline. What kind of a retirement strategy is that?
The union representing ex-Alitalia employees is demanding that the government offer these employees unemployment benefits for five years. Does disrobing in the street really help to advance that goal? I’m skeptical…
As a human being, I wish no one to unnecessarily suffer. We should all send our empathetic best wishes to the thousands of Alitalia employees displaced. I will miss Alitalia and the great service I enjoyed onboard over the years. But perhaps it really was time to acknowledge that Alitalia was simply never going to be profitable and that fundamental changes were long overdue. In that sense, I think those employees would have found their time better spent searching for new career options than stripping in the street.
>Does disrobing in the street really help to advance that goal? I’m skeptical…
Let’s be honest – you probably wouldn’t have written about this protest if it hadn’t gone viral. It wouldn’t have gone viral if they just wore their uniforms. So it worked to create public “exposure” of the problem.
I’m not saying that it will be effective, but it’s Italy – there is long history showing public pressure by labor groups can be effective at influencing government policy.
I don’t accept the premise that an airline needs to be a for-profit entity. If Italy wanted to continue to fund Alitalia’s shortfalls (which, in the grand scheme of things is not a lot of money), why not? I know EU law gets involved here, but I think there is intrinsic value in having a state funded airline representing the country’s image around the world.
But a state funded enterprise that continually runs at a deficit includes an opportunity cost: what other services can that money be used to fund?
While it’s true some services are needed as a government enterprise, it’s equally true that they all can’t just be losing billions. Especially when it’s due to unrealistic cost structure.
I flew Alitalia for the first (and only) time WAW-FCO-CAI in 1998 for a high school speech and debate tournament.
Resolved: Jerry flying your airline leads to profitability.
Dang. If they had started disrobing like that before, I’d have been flying Alitalia all the time and everyone could have kept her job
I gave them a chance back in 2003 or 4. Roundtrip JFK FCO in Magnifque class. No flight review is necessary just your imagination. I never went back to them.