Cover for Orenic: On the Ground: Labor Struggle in the American Airline Industry. Click for larger image

On the Ground

Labor Struggle in the American Airline Industry

The challenges and successes of unionization at four U.S. airlines, with a focus on baggage handlers

On the Ground charts labor relations in the airline industry, unraveling the story of how baggage handlers--classified as unskilled workers--built tense but mutually useful alliances with their skilled coworkers such as aircraft mechanics and made tremendous gains in wages and working conditions, even in the era of supposedly "complacent" labor in the 1950s and 1960s. Examining company and union records as well as interviews with former baggage handlers, Liesl Miller Orenic explains how airline jobs on the ground were constructed, how workers chose among unions, and how federal labor policies as well as industry regulation both increased and hindered airline workers' bargaining power.

“Provides a detailed history of institutions, regulatory regimes, technological evolution, and the development of the division of labor, wages and working conditions in the airline industry. This is an extremely useful work.”--EH.Net

"An important study."--Enterprise and Society

"This wonderful treatment of an underexamined area of labor history is able to cut through mounds of tangled and confusing material to reveal a clear picture of how workers coped with an ever-changing industry. . . . An important book."--Labor Studies Journal

"With sympathy and careful detail, Orenic offers a well-documented counterpoint to the story of post-World War II labor complacency by showing how airline ground crews used militant tactics to build their unions in the 1950s and 1960s."--Business History Review

"An important study ... which should interest union activities and academics."--Enterprise & Society

"Lucidly written and argued, On the Ground effectively explains how industrial relations in the transportation sector differed so dramatically from other major industries."--Alice Kessler-Harris, author of Gendering Labor History

"Mixing union and company archives, industry and labor newspapers, government documents, valuable oral history interviews, and a wealth of secondary readings, Orenic provides the definitive narrative of the rise of the airline fleet service clerks into a powerful wing of organized labor."--Leon Fink, coauthor of Upheaval in the Quiet Zone: 1199SEIU and the Politics of Health Care Unionism

"A superb portrait of the real 'baggage handler' in the industry I worked in and took much pride in for forty-five years. Liesl Miller Orenic captures the work and social habits of workers building a better life for their jobs and families through union activism."--Randy Canale, former president and general chairperson, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Air Transport District 141

Liesl Miller Orenic is an associate professor of history and the director of American studies at Dominican University.

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