A Canadian to head Air France? Mais non!

Word is in that a former head of Air Canada has been hired to run Air France, whose previous CEO resigned after the airline’s unionized workers rejected an offer of a 1% pay rise after having compensation frozen for seven years.

Air France-KLM has been locked in a bitter dispute with unions over pay and working conditions since 2014. In autumn of 2015, the airline unveiled plans to slash 2,900 jobs as part of a restructuring programme, including some 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots, sources said at the time.

The stand-off quickly reached a fever pitch with the infamous shirt-ripping incident in October that year, when around 100 employees angry over job cuts stormed a meeting, causing Air France executives to flee. Two had their shirts torn to shreds and were forced to scale a fence to escape the mob, photos of which went viral.

Air France boss without shirt

All of this is amazing from a Canadian perspective.  First there is the idea that unions are strong enough, and militant enough, to force the resignation of the big boss.  Second is the suggestion that they also don’t feel a great need to compromise with the employer.

Third is the remarkable story of union members crashing a board meeting and causing enough of a ruckus to actually frighten the managers into running away.

Even more amazing, “In a joint statement, nine unions objected to the appointment of a foreigner, citing the need for a CEO that will pursue “our national airline’s interests“.

Union fears were exacerbated by French media reports that Smith was seeking a remuneration package worth €4.25 million ($4.8 million), or three times that of his predecessor.

Yes, there is actually a suggestion that executive pay should reflect some reasonable amount, not just “how much do you have?”

Beyond that, does Air France really want to sink to the level of Air Canada?  To be the airline of last resort?  To be the airline that all of France chooses only if there isn’t a foreign competitor?   It’s all very sad, especially when you consider that this is an airline that once flew the Concorde.