Corporations

United and the Cops Are Just the Latest Violent Partners in a Long History of Dysfunction

Government officials have often deployed force on behalf of their business and labor friends. That will change only when the consequences outweigh the gains.

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After Chicago aviation cops violently dragged David Dao, a paying passenger, from his seat on United Airlines Flight 3411, I had what at first glance might be an odd reaction. I immediately remembered waking from a doze in the shotgun seat of my then-girlfriend's car many years ago to find that she'd cut into the line at a busy gas station, starting a confrontation with a driver who was under the impression that his patience had earned him a turn at the pump.

"My boyfriend is going to kick your ass," she yelled.

"I am?" I remember wondering to myself, before proceeding to face the poor guy down. Let's say I was a guilty partner in an unhealthy relationship.

United and the Chicago aviation police have an awfully familiar dynamic going in their own relationship. United sold seats on its flight to customers who were given the impression they'd be transported from Chicago to Louisville in return for cash. Then United suffered seller's remorse when company officials realized they had employees who needed to get to the same destination, and the easiest way to get them there was to pull a fast one and cut in line for the seats they'd already sold. When Dao objected, they got the aviation police to kick his ass.

"This violent incident should never have happened and was a result of gross excessive force by Chicago Department of Aviation personnel," the United pilots' union objected after the incident—which is true as far as it goes. Just as I doubt my old girlfriend would have cut that line if she hadn't been sure I'd back her play, it's unlikely that United would have been so comfortable ordering paying customers off the plane if the cops hadn't been there to twist arms. But that still leaves people making skeevy decisions based on confidence that a partner will back them with violence.

Like I said, unhealthy relationships.

This is hardly the first time that a government agency has played the part of the meathead in the shotgun seat on behalf of a partner with bad judgment. Politicians, police chiefs, and military officers have frequently exercised violence at the urging of powerful people who found arm-twisting to be more convenient than negotiation for settling disputes.

Corporations have benefited on numerous high-profile occasions from the deployment of truncheons and bullets, even if their reputations ultimately took as much of a beating as labor union representatives as a consequence (something that continuously comes as a revelation to them, as United is currently demonstrating). While labor and business people might both have pushed their disagreements over the line to brutality during the heated strikes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are few private disputes that can't be made worse by the addition of troops. That may have been most effectively demonstrated during the "Ludlow Massacre" of 1914, when Colorado National Guardsmen attacked a strikers' tent colony at the bidding of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CFIC) and killed dozens of people, including women and children.

That calling in government force, however attractive it might have seemed at the time to CFIC management, had some public relations downsides is apparent from the fact that the Rockefeller family which was heavily involved in the firm is still trying to atone for the incident, with David Rockefeller Jr. visiting the site earlier this year.

And Flight 3411 was hardly the first time Chicago law enforcement were in the thick of the action—they played a very hands-on role by inflicting casualties, including 10 deaths, during the Republic Steel strike of 1937.

Federal forces intervened in favor of corporations in numerous labor disputes, too—so many times that tracking them became a cottage industry for some academics by the middle of the 20th century.

While politicians primarily courted business early in the days of loaning out their favors, they eventually learned that there was much to be gained from also sharing them with labor. Corporations may have had money to offer in return, but unions could offer votes and feet on the ground. True too, corporate executives are as easily deterred by lawyers as by rifles, so government thuggery on behalf of labor tends to be more implicit than explicit, and far less bloody as a result.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic shotgun-rider when it came to helping out labor unions was President Harry Truman. He repeatedly seized industrial properties to settle labor-management disagreements, culminating in his effort only when he tried to take control of the entire steel industry on his own authority. The Supreme Court effectively told him to get back in the car by ruling that presidential power didn't extend quite so far.

Truman's arm-twisting, it should be noted, continued the tradition of such moves ending up as public relations disasters. While seizing the steel industry was far from his only unpopular decision, it didn't do much to help his impressively low public approval.

So if this long-standing unhealthy relationship between powerful businesses (and unions) and government so often ends in blood and public rebuke, why does it continue? Why cut in line, relying on the arm-twister riding shotgun to settle the resulting dispute, when the whole scenario is so likely to end with everybody looking like a thug?

Well, maybe United learned a lesson. At least, the airline says it won't eject seated passengers quite so violently in the future. Competitor Delta loudly agrees that paying passengers to vacate seats is preferable to thumping them. And the Chicago aviation police are apologizing up and down for their conduct.

For now.

But just as I saw benefits in behaving like a jerk at that gas station on behalf of a misbehaving girlfriend, government agencies and their partners in dysfunction have repeatedly acted in anticipation of gains to be had by teaming up in awful ways. Until that perception is gone, and the consequences clearly outweigh the expected profits, the brutal partnership will continue.

NEXT: How 'ideologically uniform' is the legal academy?

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  1. Things I learned in the last two weeks at reason.

    1. Airline logistics are easy… Like a baby could do it.
    2. All Police are pwened and operated by United Airlines.
    3. According to Libertarians, contract law and property rights only apply to certain entities that are liked.

    What a bunch of hypocrites.

    1. Things I learned in the last two weeks at reason.

      1. Airline logistics are easy… Like a baby could do it.It is relatively easy. Don’t kick paying customers off your plane who are not causing a disturbance by using police. Offer more money or bennies
      2. All PoliceChicago Aviation Police are pwened and operated by United Airlines.crony capitalism at its worst
      3. According to Libertarians, contract law and property rights only apply to certain entities that are liked.contract law and property rights should apply to all people and business in the USA, but thanks to the Nanny-State, crony capitalism and the police surveillance state- the state gets too involved to crack skulls. If someone has a contractual right to be on a common carrier, they cannot be treated as a common trespasser

      What a bunch of hypocrites.

      1. “but thanks to the Nanny-State, crony capitalism and the police surveillance state- the state gets too involved to crack skulls.”

        What a load of bullshit. It’s crony capitalism now to call the cops to remove someone from your private property after you asked them to leave and they don’t.

      2. Don’t kick paying customers off your plane who are not causing a disturbance by using police. Offer more money or bennies

        Simpler solution: leave them on the plane, but have them arrested at the destination for interfering with a flight crew and criminal trespass; ban them for life from the airline; sue them for the damages caused by the delay.

        No embarrassing video, passenger won’t do that again, problem solved.

    2. Stupid library hyprochlndriscs!

      If u don’t think United is totes kool for cramping a paying passenger off da plane, then you don’t gronk the propensity rights, dude! Flammicker jammer!

    3. “According to Libertarians, contract law and property rights only apply to certain entities that are liked.”

      Sounds like a strawman, but I am still curious about what example of a contractual agreement do you have in mind that would support your proposition that libertarians are only partially interested in contractual agreements and property rights?

      Because if you’re thinking of United and Dr. Dao, perhaps you should get more acquainted with tenancy laws and renters’ agreements. United ACCEPTED Dr. Dao’s money for a specific service he expected to receive in exchange. He had every right not to be expelled from his seat, just like a paying tenant cannot be evicted from a premise on the landlord’s whim if he or she is not violating the renter’s agreement.

      1. “He had every right not to be expelled from his seat, just like a paying tenant cannot be evicted from a premise on the landlord’s whim if he or she is not violating the renter’s agreement.”

        But he’s not renting a house, he’s paying for transportation subject to a pretty clear clause that lets them revoke his seat.

        They told him they were doing so and to get off the plane, he refused, they called the police, the police roughed him up. Suddenly you all want to pretend that the part of the contract you don’t like doesn’t apply because you don’t like the entirely legal method airlines (and hotels, and car rental agencies for that matter) manage their risk. You’re a bunch of hypocrites; if you don’t like the terms don’t buy the ticket.

        1. United’s Contract for Carriage is ninety pages long. Let’s see you find it and call out the clause that allows them to eject a boarded passenger who isn’t causing a disturbance. I double dog dare you, and anyone who won’t take a double dog dare sucks eggs.

    4. I’ve learned in the last 2 seconds that you’re a dipshit.

    5. According to Libertarians, contract law and property rights only apply to certain entities that are liked.

      Not according to real libertarians, only according to left liberals who make a living as professional fake libertarians.

      1. REAL libertarians voted for Trump, it is known.

        1. Real means Royal in Laborer Language.

    6. Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all. Adam Smith

      Which was not a defense of that propertarian origin nor an argument for anarcho. But Smith was probably a commie.

    7. “…What a bunch of hypocrites.”

      Imagine that!
      A jack-booted thug shows up to call us hypocrites for objecting to jack-booted thugs!

      1. Imagine that, the CEO of Delta showed up to trash United. See, I can make unfounded assertions about people too, isn’t this fun!

        At no point did I say that the guy should be beaten up, he shouldn’t have been… but he also should have left the plane as they legally asked him to do per Rule 5-A or 5-G of the contract of carriage.

        You can Monday morning quarterback this all you want, and yes there are things United could have done differently… but they didn’t, they exercised rule 5 cancelling his reservation and then asked whatever security forces were available to remove him when he refused to comply.

        It’s really pretty straightforward once you separate “what you think they should have done” from “what they were legally allowed to do”. All this “they should have offered more” and “they should have just anticipated needing the crew in Louisville” stuff is irrelevant. United exercised Rule 5 to cancel Dr. Dao’s reservation and then asked the “police”/security or whatever the Airport Police actually are to remove a trespasser after he refused to leave.

    8. Are people still pretending that the contract that goes with an airline ticket is what you wish it was and not what it actually is? There is actually a contract when you buy a ticket and it doesn’t give you the absolute right to a seat no matter what.

      1. Doesn’t matter. If there is a dispute about the terms of a contract, that is handled by a court/judge – not by employing a thug to break someone’s nose, knock out his teeth, and drag him away semi-conscious.

        1. Okay, so they tell you to leave, you do and then you sue them in court… not essentially demand that they find a judge to set up court in the airplane from which you refuse to leave.

          1. Why do you think airlines bribe people to give up their seats? Why do you think airlines smarter than United do this shit BEFORE they board the plane? They are already allowed to get away with fraud and counterfeiting money because they don’t refund the CASH you paid but rather they pay in scrip.

            And why should he leave the plane and sue – he’s already paid. The airline has not delivered on their service and they are the ones looking to void their side of the contract. THEY are the ones who will have the burden of proof in court.

            1. The airline has not delivered on their service and they are the ones looking to void their side of the contract.

              A breach of contract does not justify a criminal trespass. Sorry, the law just doesn’t work that way.

              If a property owner orders you to leave, you must leave, regardless of what contract you think you have. Your remedy for a broken contract is civil court and damages.

        2. Doesn’t matter. If there is a dispute about the terms of a contract, that is handled by a court/judge – not by employing a thug to break someone’s nose, knock out his teeth, and drag him away semi-conscious. illegally trespassing when the property owner orders you to leave their property.

          FTFY

          The reason the passenger was dragged away was because he was trespassing.

      2. Right, but the contract states that it can prevent you from boarding. What about after you’ve already boarded?

        1. The FAA does not consider the plane “boarded” until they close the door at which point it is considered “in flight”, this most likely means that the passengers are not going to be considered “boarded” until they close the door.

          1. Fine. Then that is exactly what United would have to prove in court – because to every reasonable person out there, you board the plane when you get on the plane and get in your seat. Just because the FAA is captured by the airlines does not mean that every air traveller needs to read all the regulations that the FAA writes that are intended solely to benefit the airlines.

        2. Right, but the contract states that it can prevent you from boarding. What about after you’ve already boarded?

          You still have to obey the flight crew; if they tell you to leave, you leave. You can sue them later.

  2. I really like ur article n I have learned alot from this post..Atari breakout

    1. Amit says what we’re all thinkin’.

  3. I guess times change:
    Truman and steel = Supreme Court fail
    Obama and healthcare & health insurance = Supreme Court win
    Still waiting for the revolution.

  4. But just as I saw benefits in behaving like a jerk at that gas station on behalf of a misbehaving girlfriend

    Huh, you stick it in the crazy too!

  5. “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

    Major General Smedley Butler USMC

    1. Wasn’t that the same general that prevented the business plot?

  6. RE: United and the Cops Are Just the Latest Violent Partners in a Long History of Dysfunction
    Government officials have often deployed force on behalf of their business and labor friends. That will change only when the consequences outweigh the gains.

    What?
    Government officials deploying force by the police on their enemies?
    That’s preposterous!
    Hitler never did any of that any more than Castro or Stalin did.
    Talk about revisionist history!

  7. After Chicago aviation cops violently dragged David Dao, a paying passenger, from his seat on United Airlines Flight 3411

    If a private property owner tells you to leave your property, you should comply or they can evict you, by force if necessary.

    Whether evicting you breaks some contract or is good PR is a separate question that you are free to take up in civil court afterwards.

  8. An old man is dragged off an airplane and we’re going to compare it to Ludlow? Really? Someone’s been spending too much time hanging out with some snowflakes.

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  10. There are any number of Cops that do not know the law, and trust those that ask them to enforce the law, even when the law is not on the side business thinks it is. In the plane case, the law required them at least to offer $1330 before taking other actions. No cop can know all the law, there is just to much of it. In this case the airline should know the law, and they are culpable. The CEO should go down.

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