Germany has had its own summers of hell for train travel, thanks to strikes held by the competing labor unions within the country’s rail provider that left gaggles of travelers stranded for hours at a go.
So Tuesday’s ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court was a relief for some, as it confirmed an earlier law to rein in the power of smaller trade unions.
Several trade unions can represent different groups of workers in a single company in Germany. At railway firm Deutsche Bahn, there is one union for train drivers and another for ticket checkers and catering staff, for example. At Lufthansa, Germany’s flagship airline, one labor union represents cockpit staff while another covers crew.
But a law was introduced in 2015 to smooth over disputes such as the clash between competing trade unions at railway operator Deutsche Bahn which threatened to paralyze the country in 2014-2015. Then there was the drawn-out strike by pilots’ union Cockpit the past three years, which all but brought Lufthansa’s operations to a standstill, underlining the need for a reform of collective bargaining.
Tuesday’s ruling confirmed that when a firm has competing collective wage agreements, only that between the trade union with the largest membership and employer applies. For example, it would rule for the larger union if competing unions seek different wage agreements, such as at Deutsche Bahn, when the train drivers’ union (GDL) and the train and transport union (EVG) both fought to represent the transporter’s employees.