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French government will support foreing Air France-KLM CEO, union against it

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Staff Writer | August 16, 2018
The French government will support the appointment of Air Canada executive Ben Smith as the chief executive of Air France-KLM, a government source said on Thursday.
Ben Smith
Airline   Air Canada executive Ben Smith
The nomination of Smith is expected to be proposed to a board meeting later in the day. The plan has already drawn criticism from Air France unions, which objected to the appointment of a non-French national as group CEO.

Recruiting a foreign boss is “inconceivable,” nine unions said Thursday before a board meeting at which Smith probably will be chosen as chief executive officer.

Labor groups will meet Aug. 27 to decide next steps in a long-running dispute over pay that’s led to 15 days of strikes and lost flights this year.

Smith, the No. 2 executive at Air Canada, will have to pursue cost cuts and operational improvements in a highly competitive industry while trying to rein in disgruntled unions, all with the French state looking over his shoulder.

The poisonous atmosphere should come as no surprise: In 2015, Air France workers protesting job cuts stormed offices near Charles de Gaulle Airport, ripping the shirts off two managers as they jumped a fence to escape. Previous CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac staked his job on an a staff vote on his plans - and lost.


 

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