Spirit, Pilots Resume Talks as Airline Furloughs Crew

With the pilot strike at Spirit airlines now in its fifth day, the National Mediation Board (NMB), which oversees labor negotiations between airlines and their unions, ordered both sides back to the table yesterday in the hopes of reaching an agreement. According to the Associated Press (AP), the NMB is simply hoping to find some common ground from which to build more meaningful discussion.

But as negotiations resume, the strike has turned a bit uglier. After five days of canceled flights, and with more certain to come, Spirit has furloughed roughly 650 flight crew for the remainder of the strike. That means no paycheck for flight attendants until the pilots and airline sort out their business.

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There are a few ways to interpret this. One is that there's just no business sense in paying flight attendants when there are no flights. A brief furlough is necessary to slow financial bleeding, even though it imposes an economic burden on the flight crew. And since it's safe to assume flights will resume reasonably soon, hopefully that burden will not be too great.

But I can't help feeling there's more to it than that. Spirit has played hardball so far, mercilessly canceling all flights for days, blaming it on the pilots, and appealing to customers with facts and figures meant to portray the pilots as greedy and selfish. All of this, of course, after floating false hope about continued service. Furloughing more than 600 flight crew, while certainly a business decision at its core, ups the ante, essentially putting more blood on the pilots' hands.

Further, Spirit could have done the opposite—kept paying its flight attendants—and possibly accomplished more. Wouldn't you feel greater sympathy toward an airline that retained its flight crew, all of them innocent bystanders in this feud, even as cash gushed from the carrier's coffers? Spirit's PR team would have a field day with that. And anyway, isn't that the morally correct thing to do?

Either way, the flight attendants union isn't taking the bait. Association of Flight Attendants-CWA spokeswoman Corey Caldwell told the South Florida Business Journal, "We anticipated the possibility of these furloughs, as this is part of the process and we continue to support Spirit pilots in their fight for a fair contract."

From the start, we all sensed this situation would get worse before it got better. Well, now it has, and unfortunately we're nowhere near out of the woods yet. Let's hope this doesn't get even worse before it gets a little better.

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