Unions Pile on in Germany: Airport Workers on Strike this Week, Trains Next

Germany's largest services union, Ver.di, says thousands of airport workers will walk off the job on Wednesday morning, leaving most of the country's airports paralyzed. Meanwhile, German train drivers say they will go on an open-ended strike next week.

Lufthansa has already cancelled 142 flights in anticipation of Wednesday's strike.
DDP

Lufthansa has already cancelled 142 flights in anticipation of Wednesday's strike.

Chaos is expected at Germany's airports on Wednesday following a decision by the service employees union Ver.di to call for warning strikes among airport workers.

Wednesday is expected to be a day filled with delays and cancellations -- with Germany's most important hubs in Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Munich, Cologne-Bonn, Münster, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart all expected to be hit.

By Tuesday afternoon, German national airline Lufthansa had already cancelled 142 flights scheduled for Wednesday -- mostly connections within Germany. The airline says passengers hit by the strike may use their tickets on Deutsche Bahn trains, the national railway. Intercontinental flights, however, are expected to depart at their usual times.

In Frankfurt, home to the country's biggest airport, 12,000 workers of airport operator Fraport are expected to take part in the warning strike. They are expected to stop working at 5:30 a.m. A mass labor protest is also expected to take place at 8 am. Ver.di spokesman Christian Rothländer said the length of the strike action would be determined by the employers' response. "We have deliberately left that open," he said. If they don't try to hinder the strikes, "we assume things will get back to normal in the afternoon."

Ver.di has been fighting with state and local governments across Germany for nearly a month over a proposal to increase working hours from 38.5 per week to 40, in some cases without increasing pay. Ver.di, a national union with more than 2.4 million members, is using the airport strike to put pressure on states to compromise.

Train Strikes Planned for Monday

Meanwhile, after talks broke down a day earlier over details of a pay hike that had been agreed in January, the GDL train drivers' union said Tuesday it might strike starting on Monday unless a settlement that satisfies the train drivers' union is reached.

Trouble ahead, trouble behind: German train drivers have promised to strike next week if their demands aren't met.
DPA

Trouble ahead, trouble behind: German train drivers have promised to strike next week if their demands aren't met.

Sporadic strikes by the train drivers' union last year brought chaos to Germany's train system, which carries more than 2 billion people per year.

At the time, GDL, a union representing over 20,000 train drivers, was locked in battle with national railway Deutsche Bahn over higher wages.

Between undelivered goods and inconvenienced passengers and commuters, the strike caused tens of millions of euros in damage to the German economy.

Deutsche Bahn and the union reached a general wage deal in January. But a new dispute has erupted since, with GDL claiming that Deutsche Bahn will only sign the pay deal if GDL first agrees on a general labor contract that would effectively weaken the union's power.

"As of Monday, the wheels are going to stop turning," says GDL head Manfred Schell.

But Deutsche Bahn CEO Hartmut Mehdorn has dismissed the announcement, saying the company's offer of an 11 percent wage hike renders the strike threat "utterly nonsensical."

To make matters worse, Berlin's public transit system workers have promised a 10-day shut-down beginning before dawn on Wednesday.

agc/dpa/ap/reuters

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