Thousands of cabin crew members of the German flag carrier, Lufthansa, went on a 48-hour nationwide strike, called by the flight attendants union UFO. The labor courts also ruled in favor of the protesting workers by clearing the legality of the strike, which began on Wednesday, November 6, at 11 pm at night and finalized on Friday, November 8.
Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline, attempted to avoid the strike through last-minute negotiations. It has already been forced to cancel close to 1,300 flights – a fifth of its scheduled flights – affecting 1,80,000 passengers. The strike is also set to affect scheduled flights of other airlines, especially Lufthansa’s affiliates like SwissAir.
The company also attempted to have the strike declared illegal, arguing in court that the UFO can no longer be considered to be the legitimate representative of the workers as the union’s leadership is currently being disputed, as is its membership.
UFO’s internal dispute began earlier this year after a corruption investigation led to the resignation of five of the union’s seven board members. This has also reportedly led to several union members defecting to the rival union, the United Services Trade Union or Ver.di.
Nevertheless, both the Frankfurt Labor Court and the appellate Hesse Regional Court dismissed Lufthansa’s petition, as the workers had legitimately voted for the strike organized by UFO. The union, which is now led by an interim leadership comprising of the remaining board members, has also put into motion the process of electing a new leadership by February 2020.
The protesting flight attendants have long been demanding better work conditions, work-hours and wages. The union has also called for a mechanism to formalize temporary employees who have worked for the company over an extended period of time.
UFO had carried out a one-day strike in October, at four of Lufthansa’s subsidiaries – Eurowings, Germanwings, SunExpress and Lufthansa CityLine. Lufthansa itself had avoided the strike then through the concession of a 2% wage hike. However, according to UFO vice-president Daniel Flohr, the strike action was necessary as the talks with the management have been “deadlocked” because of the management’s refusal to negotiate,.
Meanwhile, as a result of the strike, the management has now offered to be more flexible, stating that it is open for negotiations, though there is no clarity about what would be on the table.
The strike has also made clear that despite a divided union representation, the UFO still enjoys a great deal of support among the workers. This may be illustrated by the fact that the current strike is reported to be the largest to hit an airline, since the week-long walkout by the same union in 2015.