BERLIN – Hundreds of flights were canceled at airports across Germany on Tuesday after thousands of workers walked out to join other public-sector employees in a series of strikes over pay.
The ver.di union is after a 6.5 percent increase in pay this year for 2 million federal and municipal government employees. It has rejected a 3.3 percent increase over two years, saying it wouldn't even keep pace with inflation.
The walkouts are part of a program of so-called warning strikes -- short-term walkouts -- that have been held in various parts of Germany over the past week to increase pressure ahead of the third round of pay talks scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
Since last Monday ver.di said 215,000 workers have participated in the strikes, which came on top of strikes involving 130,000 others at the start of the month.
Ver.di chief Frank Bsirske called on employers to change their offer, threatening wider labor unrest otherwise.
"Good work, good people, good money -- they belong together," Bsirske said, adding that public servants are the people "who make society function."
"Many see for the first time how important public services are when they don't have them for a day."
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who is handling the government negotiations in the dispute, criticized ver.di for bringing the strikes to the airports, calling it an "inappropriate response."
"We have made a substantial offer," he told the Rheinische Post newspaper. "It is uncalled-for to mistreat the public with these strikes."
Airline Lufthansa said Tuesday it canceled more than 400 flights at Frankfurt airport alone, where workers were off the job from early morning to mid-afternoon. Other airports affected include Munich, Duesseldorf, Cologne-Bonn, Stuttgart, Bremen, Hannover, Muenster, Dortmund and Hamburg.
In Berlin's Tegel and Schoenefeld airports, baggage handlers who are also represented by ver.di but are engaged in a separate wage dispute were also off the job.
"I got to the airport to check in and it says our flight is canceled," said London's Page Baker, sitting on the ground at Berlin's Tegel airport. "Now I can't get home and I'm not happy -- I need to get home."
Outside the airports, bus and streetcar drivers, kindergarten teachers, garbage collectors and other public workers also staged warning strikes in various cities around the country.