Airlines affected by an air traffic controllers' strike do not have any compensation claims against the air traffic controllers' union (Gewerkschaft der Flugsicherung e.V., GdF), which called the strike, based on delayed or redirected flights. This decision was made by the Federal Labor Court in the last instance in a judgment establishing a principle concerning third-party compensation claims relating to industrial action. Labor unions can therefore not as a rule be held liable by undertakings not directly involved in the strike for consequential damages (judgment of August 25, 2015, Case 1 AZR 754/13).

Industrial Action of Union against Airport Company

The air traffic controllers' union invited the operator of the Stuttgart commercial airport, (Flughafen Stuttgart GmbH) to enter into collective bargaining negotiations for the apron control and traffic control center employees working there. Many flights of the claimants were cancelled, and others were delayed or had to be redirected. The union later called off the supportive strike early owing to a prohibitory order of the Frankfurt am Main Labor Court.

Airlines unsuccessful in all court instances

The airlines “affected” by the industrial action claimed for compensation against the air traffic controller’s union arguing the strike was illegal. According to previous rulings of the Federal Labor Court, strike-bound companies have compensation claims against labor unions only if a strike is illegal.

However, the lower courts rejected the actions brought mainly for the payment of compensation owing to tortious acts. The appeals filed by the airlines were also unsuccessful before the Federal Labor Court. The judges ruled that the airlines were neither entitled to compensation owing to an unlawful injury to property (“Eigentumsverletzung”)in the form of a substantial impairment of the use of the aircraft nor owing to the airlines' right to an established and exercised business operation (“Recht am eingerichteten und ausgeübten Gewerbebetrieb”).

Signal for other recent strikes in Germany?

The decision rendered by the highest German labor judges limits the labor unions' financial risk relating to industrial action. Their judgment could also have consequences for consequential costs incurred, for example, because of closed daycare centers or trains that are not in operation. Labor Unions are satisfied with the ruling as they claim that if compensation claims could be raised by third parties, the right to strike would be restricted significantly.