Copenhagen Airport is the stage of two labor conflicts: 1) SAS cabin crews object to being transferred to a subsidiary with less favorable working conditions, and 2) Danish labor unions object to Ryanair’s policy of not negotiating with unions. Labor unions protect current privileges while airlines strive for lower costs. A classical conflict which builds on the assumption that employees and employers have opposite interests. Behind both conflicts is the increasing globalization of the labor market: Why should airlines pay more for a Danish cabin attendant that does the same job as a Latvian colleague who is willing to work for maybe 50% salary?
I don’t think labor unions can successfully meet the challenge of globalization with conflict: Companies constantly strive to be competitive and therefore they employ the people who add most value. Competition is the main source of wealth: Just think of how steeply airfares have dropped over the last ten years, and how many people have therefore now been able to travel.
Ryanair offers a lousy employment package from a Danish point of view and therefore probably no Danes will apply for jobs in Ryanair as long as they have unemployment benefits that are more generous. This is fair. Fortunately for Ryanair there are thousands of people from less privileged countries who will go out of their way to work for Ryanair. This is also fair.
The Danish labor unions meet both the Ryanair and SAS challenges with conflict. Why not embrace them instead? Why not meet the airlines with dialogue? Ryanair won’t talk, so leave them alone and they will probably fail to get any Danish cabin attendants. Bad luck for them. But SAS and others will be highly interested in working together with unions to find new and innovative ways to create more value by collaborating better: providing better service, eliminating waste, responding faster to changes, reducing costs, coping with sickness, reducing turn-around times and -costs, and more. New solutions don’t emerge in a climate of conflict; they grow out of mutual respect and trust. Such collaboration will lead to more value generated per working hour and a both a good company and a good union make sure that the gains are shared fairly. That’s embracing globalization and that’s what labor unions should do.