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Mechanics' supporters turn to prayer
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A few mechanics and their supporters held a prayer vigil on the picket line. (MPR Photo/Annie Baxter)
Emotions are running high for Northwest Airlines mechanics union members and their families as the union's strike rolls into its seventh full day. Some say they're struggling to hold things together both emotionally and financially.

St. Paul, Minn. — Ken and Cindy Hoeye say they tried to prepare themselves for the financial effects of a strike. They're both 49, and Ken's been with Northwest 19 years.

At the union's strike headquarters, next to busy highway 494, Ken explained the measure the family has been taking to anticipate changes in his job.

"We've tried to downsize the house a bit so we can be better prepared for paycuts or strike," he says. "We're also looking into what we can best do with our 401k, moving it into a Roth or something. So we're trying to plan that kind of stuff out. Survive through this, change careers. It's a little early to decide that. But you got to look at the worst scenario, not the best."

A month ago, the couple moved out of their house in Farmington to a much less expensive house in Cannon Falls. That increased Ken's commute, and it led Cindy to give up her job. She says she's looking for work in their new town.

Ken says they've learned their lesson about preparing for tougher financial times. He says their family didn't spring back easily from pay cuts meted out by Northwest in 1993. The Hoeyes declared bankruptcy that year.

"We at that time were not financially set up for it. We ended up having to declare bankruptcy. That was more our problem than anybody else's. We were not ready for it. And we're trying to be more ready this time," he says.

But there are some things the couple says will be hard to do without, especially given the stress of the strike. Cindy says she's suffered from depression for many years and sees a counselor. And she says that will probably soon be ending, because they won't be able to afford it when Ken's health benefits will end soon because of the strike.

"And the ultimate back-up to that would be going onto Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment if we can get it. I don't know that we're even eligible. And ultimately welfare, and I don't feel like any of those helps the state of Minnesota or our economy," Cindy says.

The Hoeyes are trying to work out their financial situation on their own, but some striking workers might be turning to a credit union that serves employees in the air transportation industry called Wings Financial Federal Credit Union, which has offices in the Twin Cities area.

John Wagner, vice president of marketing, says about 90 percent of Northwest employees belong to the credit union. Since it's a national organization, Wagner says the company is familiar with strike situations and can give the appropriate advice.

"We have a group of specially trained employees who are trained to deal with the individuals who are on strike or are going through labor difficulties. We have dealt with the situation before, and we do our best to work with our member owners to come to a mutually agreeable solution," Wagner says.

Wagner says the credit union has a special telephone line for employees on strike or facing a lay off.

But when those practical strategies run out, some families, like the Hoeyes, turn elsewhere.

At a prayer vigil held just outside the departure gates of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Cindy and Ken Hoeye gathered a half-dozen friends and family to pray for a positive outcome to the strike. Their pastor, Paul Marzahn from Crossrosads Church in Lakeville, said the prayer vigil was intended to build bridges.

"We've talked about one of the best ways to encourage one another is prayer, because when you pray for one another, it's a spirit of encouragement. I've also asked them to pray for the managers, the passengers, we want to make sure everyone's safe. We want to make sure there's no hostility. And so we pray for that spirit of peace as well," according to Marzahn.

And, the people at the vigil said, they were praying that Northwest and the mechanics union return to the negotiating table. At this point, no talks are scheduled.

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