What's Behind Germany's Transport Strikes That Have Stranded Air, Rail And Bus Travelers?

Passengers walk through a terminal at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. The trade union Verdi has once again called on Lufthansa ground staff to go on a warning strike. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Passengers walk through a terminal at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. The trade union Verdi has once again called on Lufthansa ground staff to go on a warning strike. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
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BERLIN (AP) — Thousands of travelers across Germany found themselves stranded on Tuesday when ground staff walked off the job at seven of the country’s biggest airports.

The one-day strike by the Ver.di labor union, which runs until 7:10 a.m. Wednesday, affects several hundred flights at airports in Frankfurt and Munich, Lufthansa’s main hubs, as well as Berlin, Duesseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne-Bonn and Stuttgart.

The strike is the latest in a series of similar actions in the rail, air and local transport sectors this year. Facing inflation and staff shortages, unions are pushing for higher wages and better working conditions.

Such short “warning strikes” are a common tactic in German contract negotiations. But they have frustrated travelers and commuters and made Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse with a reputation for efficiency, appear dysfunctional.

Here’s what’s happening with the strikes:

WHO IS STRIKING?

The 25,000 members of the Ver.di union, which includes check-in, aircraft handling, maintenance and freight staff, have walked off the job. Ver.di members staged a similar strike at German airports earlier this month, prompting airlines to cancel hundreds of flights.

In early February, about 90,000 employees with the Ver.di union for over 130 local transport operators walked off the job in major cities across Germany.

And in January, the rail workers' union GDL staged a series of multi-day strikes to protest the state of contract negotiations with the German railway operator, Deutsche Bahn.

One strike in late January was planned for six days and was set to be the longest in Deutsche Bahn’s history. The union ultimately ended the strike a day early to resume talks.

WHY ARE THEY STRIKING?

Each union's demands are different, but they center around higher wages and better working conditions. They argue that inflation has made life difficult for members, and that employers should compensate them accordingly to keep up with rising prices.

Ver.di, for example, is seeking pay raises for airport workers of 12.5%, or at least 500 euros ($539) more per month, as well as a one-time payment of 3,000 euros to offset the effects of inflation.

For transit employees, key demands include a shorter work week and extra compensation days for shift and night work.

For railway workers, in addition to pay raises, the union has called for working hours to be reduced from 38 to 35 per week without a pay cut. Deutsche Bahn has refused that.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Contract negotiations are ongoing, which means that more warning strikes — or even longer strikes — could be on the horizon.

A round of talks between Ver.di and Lufthansa on Feb. 12 produced no agreement. More negotiations are scheduled for Wednesday.

After its five-day strike last month, the GDL rail workers union returned to talks with Deutsche Bahn and agreed not to stage further strikes before March 3. But if no agreement is reached by then, train travelers may face more disruptions.