Flight Disruptions Workers Launch Mass Strike at Frankfurt Airport
A major strike by ground workers at Germany's most important airport is expected to disrupt or lead to the cancellation of hundreds of flights on Thursday. However, officials at the Frankfurt Airport say they are taking steps to ensure that intercontinental flights to North America and other destinations are not affected by the work stoppage.
Roughly 200 ground workers at Germany's largest international hub, the Frankfurt Airport, are expected to go on strike Thursday afternoon, and at least 100 flights have already been cancelled.
However, airport operator Fraport and Lufthansa, the airline with the most flights to and from Frankfurt, said intercontinental flights are not expected to be as affected by the strike as those to destinations in other parts of Germany and Europe.
None of Lufthansa's intercontinental flights have been cancelled Thursday, a company spokesperson said. The airport is making efforts to shield international passengers from the labor action.
"We will try to keep the intercontinental connections going," Fraport spokesman Mike Schweitzer told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Historically when there are labor disputes, planes with overseas destinations have been given priority, he said.
Disruptions to 50 Percent of Airport Traffic
Still, Schweitzer said the strike is expected to disrupt about 50 percent of the airport's traffic.
The strike by the GdF union against Fraport is over pay and working conditions for the roughly 200 ground workers in what is known as "Apron Control." They are responsible, in part, for guiding planes to their final park position.
Thursday's strike is set to run from 3 p.m. CET to 10 p.m. local time. The union has also stated the strike would be expanded on Friday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., if no agreement with management can be reached. Hundreds of flights are expected to be affected. German flag carrier Lufthansa has posted a list of flights that have so far been cancelled.
Both Fraport and Lufthansa criticized the labor action. In a statement, Fraport board member Herbert Mai said he can't comprehend the union's demands, which deal with pay, work time and other issues. He said the demands amount to as much as a 70 percent increase and whoever refuses to come down from such a position "is negotiating irresponsibly."
The union is asking for a completely new comprehensive contract, said union spokesman Matthias Maas. He rejected Mai's claims that the workers are asking for as much as a 70 percent raise. Maas said the union's demands are complicated, because they cover various jobs and pay groups, but the minimum raise workers want is 4 to 5 percent. The union also wants a four-year contract, whereas management is pushing for a six year agreement.
Fraport is reviewing its legal options, including trying to secure a court injunction to stop the strike.
But the workers have a fair amount of power, as they are hard to replace. Fraport said it plans to have managers work in some of the slots vacated by striking workers in order to allow for at least half the normal traffic to come in and out of the airport Thursday.
The union said responsibilities for its rank and file have increased since a fourth runway was introduced at the airport last autumn, but salaries haven't kept pace. Key to the union's demand is that salaries for the 200 Frankfurt workers stay in line with those in Munich, also an international hub, over the next few years.