Air France Makes `Bizarre' Snooze Room Offer to Defiant Staff

(Bloomberg) -- After an attempt to play hard ball with defiant staff failed to end a bitter labor conflict, Air France is now trying a softer approach. The embattled carrier’s latest offer to workers: more rooms for rest breaks.

At meetings with union representatives, who have called for a fresh round of strikes starting next week, management pledged to spend more to improve working conditions. The French arm of Air France-KLM said Thursday it would renovate and add staff rooms at Orly airport near Paris and take a “new approach to staff concerns and dialogue.”

The move didn’t go down well with at least two unions. “It’s a joke,” SPAF pilot union representative Gregoire Aplincourt said by phone. “I don’t see how I can come back to pilots and ask them to lift the strike with these bizarre promises.”

Air France-KLM is still reeling from the resignation last month of Chief Executive Officer Jean-Marc Janaillac, who had staked his job on workers accepting his final offer on pay in a company-wide referendum. After they rejected it, the Paris-based carrier appointed an interim management team and unions decided on a new round of strikes June 23-26. Aplincourt said there would be a joint response to the latest proposals, but for the moment the plan for renewed action stands.

Summer Strikes

Air France-KLM’s board won’t resume talks with unions before new top executives are appointed, the company said in its statement. Interim non-executive Chairman Anne-Marie Couderc told unions that if no CEO is found by early July, she would ask the board to change her mandate, labor representatives said.

They had expected management would at least offer a 3.65 percent wage increase for 2018 and 2019, an option that had been under discussion in the past few days, according to Aplincourt, who said this was getting closer to workers’ demands.

Instead, the promises for staff rooms, new printers and parking spots “aren’t up to the challenge,” CGT union representative Vincent Salles said. “We’re puzzled by these proposals.”

Next week’s planned walkouts would escalate a costly labor conflict just as the busy summer travel season in Europe gets underway. Already, 15 days of strikes that began Feb. 22 have cost the company more than 300 million euros.

The 10 unions representing pilots, cabin crew and ground personnel demanded a pay raise of at least 5 percent this year, as they seek a share of Air France-KLM’s 2017 profit increase. Management has refused, citing the need to continue investing, including by buying new planes. The former CEO proposed a 7 percent increase over four years tied to performance.

A majority of employees rejected the offer in May, triggering Janaillac’s departure and replacement with an interim team that doesn’t have a mandate to negotiate with unions or grant pay increases beyond what Janaillac had offered.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.