Air France workers reject latest proposal to end strikes

Air France workers on May 4 rejected a wage increase proposed by the company’s CEO.

After the rejection, the workers’ unions announced that a series of two-day strikes that have been going on since February will continue, and Air France’s CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac resigned.

Janaillac had hoped to end the strikes by proposing a 7 percent wage increase that would be phased in over four years.

The unions have been demanding an immediate 5 percent increase because wages at Air France have frozen for the last five years.

Janaillac bypassed the unions, which had been in negotiations with Air France, and took his proposal directly to the workers, who voted online on whether to accept or reject his offer.

Workers were told that if they didn’t accept the proposal, the very existence of Air France would be at stake.

Despite the warnings, 55 percent of Air France’s pilots, cabin crew, and ground staff voted to reject Janaillac’s proposal.

Janaillac had staked his reputation on being able to end the strikes, and the workers’ rejection of his proposal clearly left him shaken and frustrated, which led to his resignation.

“The vote is the victory, not (Janaillac’s) resignation,” said Laurent Le Gall, a representative of CFTC, one of the unions whose members work at Air France to Bloomberg News. “(He) attempted to bypass the negotiation framework with this move, and it comes back at him like a boomerang.”

After rejecting Janaillac’s wage proposal, Air France workers on Monday went on another two-day strike.

It was the 14th time since February that Air France flights have disrupted by strikes, costing the company 400 million euros.

Prior to the strikes, Air France had been reaping record profits, and its workers thought it was time that the sacrifices that they have been making since the company restructured in 2012 should be rewarded.

Since 2012, Air France’s workers have endured layoffs and wage freezes, and the unions representing them proposed an immediate 5 percent wage increase to offset some of the workers losses.

Janaillac and the French government, which owns a 12 percent share in the company thought otherwise.

They preferred that investors rather than workers should be the ones rewarded for the company’s successful recovery.

The workers’ demands for a decent pay raise have irritated the government of President Emmanuel Macron, but when they rejected Janaillac’s wage proposal, the government’s irritation morphed into imperious contempt.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire fumed that the workers rejection could lead to the “disappearance” of Air France, a not-so veiled threat that unless workers buckled under, Air France would go out of business.

Le Maire’s over-the-top remarks about the dangers posed to Air France by a 5 percent wage increase is not particularly out of character for a government official appointed by President Emmanuel Macron.

Since he took office a year ago, Macron’s government  has taken measures suggesting that he and his government think that workers have it too good and need be taken down a peg or two.

One of the first things that he did after becoming president was to ram through changes to the country’s labor code that made work more precarious and made it easier for businesses to fire workers and to ignore pattern-setting, industry-wide labor contracts negotiated by unions.

He told Parliament that if his proposals bogged down in debate, he would unilaterally implement them through a directive of his own.

This year, he decided that workers for the country’s public rail service SNCF had it too good, and decided to eliminate job security for new hires, reduce pension benefits, and pave the way for privatizing SCNF.

That decision has led to ongoing railway strikes. The day after Air France workers began their 14th two-day strike, rail workers began their seventh two-day strike since the beginning of April.

If that weren’t enough, Macron has proposed cutting pensions and unemployment benefits.

Macron said that the worker pain he is proposing is needed to make France more business friendly and competitive.

But workers have another view.

The New York Times reports that “many workers worry that the financing of the country’s cherished safety net will be plucked away and transferred to business for the profit of shareholders.”

In many ways that is the same feeling that Air France workers have about the company’s reluctance to share their profits with them.

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