Lufthansa Calls Labor Chiefs to Summit in Bid to End Strikes

  • Carrier meets with pilot, cabin crew and ground staff unions
  • Gathering follows progress in negotiations over past week

Deutsche Lufthansa AG met with unions for its pilots, cabin crew and ground staff Wednesday in a bid to end 20 months of strikes.

The briefing with the Cologne-based company’s management board presented plans to secure jobs and expand the main Lufthansa brand in an effort to win support for savings after 18 months of disruption by pilots and seven days of strikes by flight attendants that crippled operations in November.

Talks are set to continue, with the parties pledging to improve cooperation and communication, the unions and Lufthansa said in a joint statement. No further details were disclosed.

Lufthansa reached an agreement on pay and benefits with the Ver.di union representing most of its ground staff on Saturday, while UFO, which acts for cabin crew, called off its latest action last week. The Vereinigung Cockpit pilot group said it would attend the meeting after overcoming legal concerns.

Though staff disputes cover a variety of topics, the chief focus is the perceived threat that expansion of Lufthansa’s Eurowings arm poses to mainline operations, where staff are better paid. Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohr has pledged to make it into Europe’s third-largest discount carrier with more than 100 planes, contrasting with moves to cap Lufthansa fleet at 400 jets.

Pension Progress

The Nov. 25 deal with cabin crew saw Lufthansa agree to discuss employment conditions across all of its German operations, with Matthias Platzeck, a former chairman of the SPD or Social Democratic Party, designated arbiter. Lufthansa has also edged closer to a possible agreement on pension benefits, which it’s negotiating separately, though UFO has said an accord needs to be reached soon on several issues to avoid further strikes.

The Ver.di deal covering about 30,000 workers calls for a one-time payment this year followed by 2.2 percent raises in 2016 and 2017, tied to a defined-contribution corporate pension plan for new hires. Lufthansa said the change will lower costs in the long run.

Vereinigung Cockpit said Lufthansa had agreed that its attendance of the management meeting to discuss a range of issues will not be cited in any future legal argument. The union’s last strike in September was ruled unlawful after a Frankfurt court deemed that it hadn’t been directly tied to pensions.

“If Lufthansa manages to overcome some of the hostilities and bad blood, that will be a success in itself,” said Jochen Rothenbacher, an analyst at Equinet AG in Frankfurt. “The conflict may well extend into next year. There’s no quick and easy solution.”

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