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Countdown to a Strike
By Mark Zdechlik
February 11, 2001
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Leaders of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association are urging Northwest Airlines mechanics to prepare for a strike in less than a month even though President Bush says he'll keep the workers on the job past the 30-day cooling-off period if an contract agreement isn't reached.

The National Mediation Board released the airline and the union from negotiations Friday, triggering the countdown to a March 12th strike, which the White House says it will block.


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EVEN THOUGH PRESIDENT BUSH says he'll order nearly 10,000 Northwest mechanics and aircraft cleaners to stay on the job past the 30-day cooling-off period, the union says it's moving ahead with strike preparations.

The union is also continuing with a lobbying effort to convince President Bush not to establish an emergency board if an agreement fails to emerge before March 12th.

If the administration calls for an emergency board, workers couldn't legally strike for an additional two months.

The union says the president's threat unfairly robs the workers of what would have been significant pressure on the airline to settle the nearly four-a-half-year-old contract dispute during the cooling-off period.

Minnesota 8th district DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar calls the Bush threat "an attack on labor." He says President Bush could have gotten involved by helping to broker a settlement just as President Clinton did over two years ago when Northwest's pilots walked out on strike.

As an independent craft union, AMFA is not part of the powerful AFL-CIO.

Oberstar says it remains to been seen to what , if any, extent organized labor nationally will speak out against the Bush administration. Macalester College history professor and labor historian Peter Rachleff says there's something flawed with the equation that in a free marketplace workers should be prevented from withholding their services because a work interruption would cause economic problems.

Northwest says it will work diligently to resolve the dispute, but the airline is leaving the negotiating oversight to the National Mediation Board. Northwest spokesman Jon Austin says with the Bush announcement, customers need not worry about schedule interruptions for at least three months.

The problem, according to Carousel Travel President Neil Kramer, is there are few choices for Northwest customers looking for direct flights from the Twin Cities and from Detroit. Kramer notes even for customers who may wish to use airlines other than Northwest, given the state of labor relations throughout the industry, they might run into just as many problems elsewhere.

For now, Kraemer recommends customers treat Northwest with a business-as-usual approach.

Kraemer does recommend that if job actions, legal or illegal, become a problem at Northwest and you're trying to travel, don't settle for an e-ticket; demand a traditional paper ticket, because you'll have much better luck making changes should that be necessary.