Friday, December 14, 2018
Go to Strike at Northwest
Strike at Northwest
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Tell us your story about the Northwest labor situation
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Your stories

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The Northwest strike: Your stories
As part of our coverage of the Northwest Airlines mechanics' union strike, we're asking our audience to submit stories of how the strike is affecting them. Here is a sample of those comments. New comments are added regularly.

St. Paul, Minn. — I used to be married to an NWA mechanic. He took a pay cut more than 10 years ago to help the airline, and they never followed through on their promises.

This time around NWA worked for 18 months and spent over $100 million to get ready for this strike. If they paid their own mechanics what they are paying the replacement scabs, they would have no problem!! Plus, they're paying for hotel rooms for these people. It leaves no question in my mind that their intention is to bust the union, period.

I had a plane ticket on NWA for Thurs. Sept. 8, and I cancelled it. I will not cross a union picket line, especially at NWA. It is time for people to start caring about the workers who make the profits possible.
Annette Caruthers, St. Louis Park (9/6/05)


They've been issued their picketing schedule, though the cynical response from the mechanics is that they can't afford to picket -- they will have to take whatever other work they can to make ends meet.
- Shelley Meier, mechanic's wife

I am a former NWA flight attendant, by way of Southern Airways- North Central merger, the creation of Republic Airlines and eventually the NWA merger; and my husband is a former NWA pilot (also of the above-mentioned merger sequence). We empathize with the current labor situation regarding the mechanic's strike. We have experienced similar strikes and "near strikes" during our employment (1976-1990 and 1969-1992 respectively).

Each decade the stakes became higher for the striking unions or groups that were affected (per contractual agreements), and the outcomes nearly always benefited the corporate structure. The term "corporate welfare" seems appropriate here.

It is important to keep abreast of the current situation at NWA because the labor unions are suffering at the hands of our current administration. The skilled workers who earn their pay and benefits are now easily replaced by those individuals who need a job at any cost; ergo an "us vs. them" attitude develops that is detrimental to a corporation; a strike is generally a benefit to corporations.

NWA has been in contract negotiations with the mechanics and has had much time and money invested to break the mechanic's union (read threat). If successful, the flight attendants and pilots contracts are next to be derailed. It is important for Americans to understand that mechanics, flight attendants, pilots, gate agents, ground personnel, etc., are well-trained professionals who dedicate their careers to the safety and comfort of the traveling public.

The mechanics know that their jobs are at peril but are willing to stand up for what they have earned and deserve. Americans should pay attention to this strike and realize that its outcome will set a precedent for all U.S. airlines if NWA is successful in breaking the mechanic's labor union. Would air travelling Americans really want low paid, unskilled labor overseeing their air safety? I think not.
Linda Harris, Niceville, FL (8/29/05)


I traveled to and from Washington, DC last week (8/23-8/25). My flight out to DC was cancelled (no explanation given), and my return to the Twin Cities from DC was delayed about an hour and a half.

I have flown Northwest for the great majority of my travel. Cancellations and delays were the exception rather than the rule. I found these delays to be too much of a coincidence to rule out the strike as a contributing factor.

My wife and I are travelling to Los Angeles in September and we have booked travel on another airline. We are worried about flying Northwest particularly if the strike continues that long.
Bob Niemiec, St. Paul (8/29/05)


My husband is a mechanic -- began with Republic in the early '80s, and was transitioned into Northwest when NWA took over Republic. He often says that while there were some issues between management and labor at Republic, it was nothing like what he encountered at NWA. Northwest had a reputation for being hostile toward its workforce at the time of the Republic takeover.

He told me that he was shocked, for instance, to find that all the doors had been removed from the bathroom stalls -- with the stated purpose of encouraging the mechanics to spend less time there. (I don't know if this had been a significant problem, but it seems like a fairly petty thing to do.) That was years ago, of course, and I believe they eventually were reinstalled. In any case, I think without representation, the life for the mechanics would be pretty harsh.

I'm not personally in favor of all the silliness that comes from the existence of unions, though I have some experience years ago working for the stagehands union, and appreciated the benefits of the contracts that were negotiated. I'm a salaried worker now in a consulting firm.

But as far as NWA is concerned, I do believe that the work conditions would be disastrous for the mechanics and others if they did not have a union.

In any case, my husband has shared what he's found when they've had to follow up on parts that were ostensibly repaired and returned as 'good' to the airline by an outsourced firm.

In one case, the part in question was supposed to be assembled so that a series of cupped discs faced one another to become a spring mechanism. When the part did not test out, it was removed and sent to the shop to examine. The part had been assembled with the discs nested so that the purpose of its spring mechanism was completely non-functional.

My husband is very concerned that these parts are coming in and have not really been repaired (or repaired in accordance with the instruction and specifications of the manufacturer), and some will test as operable, with a potential for failure that would be unnoticed until it actually failed.

His dismay with the outsourced parts is only part of the picture. He is a staunch believer in unions, and an equally staunch opponent to the representation offerd by AMFA. While the IAM admittedly had its problems, AMFA is an organization that doesn't seem to grasp the concept that its members are not irreplaceable.

When AMFA made a bid for representation, they appealed to the younger licensed mechanics, assuring them that the company could 'never operate without them,' that they were the 'elite' of the aircraft maintenance world, and other such things.

They did not want to represent the cleaners (a subset activity within the repair world that do not hold licenses), but in the end had to take them on. They successfully excluded the baggage handlers from their representation. Of course, part of a union's strength is in its numbers, so this rather weakened the mechanics' position all around.

At the time of AMFA's bid to secure representation for the mechanics at NWA, it was revealed that AMFA had managed to remove the right to strike from the contract for the mechanics at Alaska Airlines -- the right to strike being one of, if not the only, tool in a unions' arsenal to negotiate from a position of some power. Only the veterans knew this was a flaw; the younger mechanics did not seem to see that as any kind of error.

An irony in all this is that the younger mechanics who made up the majority of the support to change representation to AMFA are no longer with the airline, having lost their jobs in the significant reductions made by NWA in the years following 9/11. The veterans who make up the remaining workforce are now rather stuck with AMFA, as there was no time prior to the strike to launch a card campaign to make a change.

My husband has reported that the AMFA representation in the shops has been virtually nothing; they hear about the progress of their contract talks the same way the rest of us do, from the news. He's concerned that AMFA will continue to insist on the invulnerability of the mechanics' service to the airline, and manage to destroy the jobs that remain in the bargain.

Northwest's executive group has made it clear that they do not want to be in the business of doing maintenance on aircraft any longer. They are trying to break this union, and unless the other unions step in to support them, they will pick them off one at a time.
- Nick Pladson, Northwest traveler

My husband has always taken great pride in effecting top-notch repairs on the components he's worked on over the years. He indicates that the same is true for the vast majority of mechanics. When he signs off on a part, he knows he has brought it to a nearly new condition, and is fit to be installed on a plane.

He is keenly aware of, and takes quite seriously, the ownership he has of his work. His name goes on that part, and he feels very strongly about making sure it is in the best possible condition. He will hold a part back if it's not perfect. And this remains true for him and those he works with, even when NWA and AMFA are engaged in this struggle.

I have heard some people speculate that they don't want to get on a plane repaired by an unhappy worker, but I do trust the work they do. I have more concerns about the outsourced parts, frankly. If an experienced mechanic is not available to follow up with a marginal part, how many of them will go up with the planes in substandard condition?

The circumstances of the remaining mechanics are all pretty similar; enough years of service (seniority) to have maintained their jobs through the cuts, but not yet at the minimum retirement age. There is no strike fund; there will be no compensation of even a minimal amount for the striking workers.

They've been issued their picketing schedule, though the cynical response from the mechanics is that they can't afford to picket -- they will have to take whatever other work they can to make ends meet.

Our personal circumstances are like many in America -- paycheck to paycheck living, with little buffer. The loss of more than half of our household income will place us in a very precarious position in very short order. We are looking at all ways to reduce our expenses we can to prepare for this, but I worry it won't be enough, and we may have to sell the house we built ourselves.

Certainly what Northwest is asking of the mechanics is extreme, and worthy of fighting. But AMFA had a handful of other options they could have taken that would have kept the mechanincs working.

In any case, this battle will be fought by the public; whether they choose to cross the picket lines and fly Northwest, or give the business to a competitor will have the greatest effect.

As a Minnesotan, I feel the additional pain of knowing how much we taxpayers have given Northwest in the past, and how little they have produced for it. I hope that Minnesotans will send Northwest a message that we don't approve of how they do business -- with the public, with their employees, and with the taxpayers of the state. -- Shelley Meier, Lindstrom, Minn. (8/26/05)


My career with Northwest Airlines started in 1963 as a "Stewardess." On March 31, 2003, I retired as a Flight Attendant. During that time I (we) "weathered" 10 NWA labor strikes! I do not recall the sequence. I do know Northwest makes promises they do not intend to keep when it comes to contracts and labor concessions.

As per the Series C-preferred Stock,that was an accummulation of three years of 15 percent wage concessions. This was to be held for 10 years, after which NWA was to pay us the value of the stock at the time taken, which I believe was about $46.00 per share.

The 10 years was up in August of 2004. To this date, with over $2 billion in cash available, NWA has not paid for the concessions promised.

The mechanics did what they had to do -- go out on strike!They, as all contract NWA employees (present and past) know, NWA does not bargain in good faith, and they do not intend to keep the faith!

Note: My dates and $ amounts are memory quoted...the "history" is as correct as memory serves. -- Diana Linehan, Scottsdale, Ariz. (8/23/05)

For years, our extended family has been loyal to NWA, possibly because of a lack of initiative. No longer. This strike has opened our eyes to the advantages of other airlines.
- Margaret Lubozynski, Northwest traveler


I have several close friends in the mechanic's union, so that makes me feel uneasy about how it is affecting them. I will not cross their picket line. I believe it is shameful that the other unions at Northwest will not honor the picket line.

It is clear to me that the offer provided by Northwest to the union was unacceptable, and never meant to be acceptable.

Northwest's executive group, notably VP Andy Roberts, have made it clear that they do not want to be in the business of doing maintenance on aircraft any longer. They are trying to break this union, and unless the other unions step in to support them, they will pick them off one at a time.

It reminds me of a famous quote, which I will paraphrase here: "First they came for the mechanics, and I did not speak out, because I was not a mechanic. Then they came for the flight attendants, and I did not speak out, because I was not a flight attendant. Then they came for the ground crew, and I did not speak out, because I was not a ground crew member. And then they came for me, and no one was left to speak up for me."

I wish I could say that I flew several times a month, but I can't. I do, however, fly about six to eight times a year. While I generally try to be a conscientious consumer, it is often difficult not to go with the cheapest/most convenient option available.

Because I don't fly as frequently as some, I am able to make a conscious decision not to fly NWA during a strike. Certainly much of my position is based on my relationships with people in the mechanics union, however I'd like to think that I'd feel the same way if I didn't know any of them.

I have been stunned at the way Northwest Airlines treats its employees. They have certainly earned the bad blood that exists between them and their employee groups.
- LaTina Else, mechanic's wife

I am tantalizingly close to a free ticket on NWA with my frequent flyer miles, and if I happen to surpass the threshold necessary for a free ticket while AMFA is still out on strike, I will not use it. When I make my flying decisions in the near future, it will not be with Northwest. -- Nick Pladson, Minneapolis (8/20/05)


I was an NWA contract employee from 1987 until 2003. I was a clerical worker in the IAM. The current strike was to be expected considering the climate at NWA for the past several years.

There has been little trust between average employees and management. We were seldom given direct information about what the company's strategies were.

I used to empathize with management, thinking that they must know what they're doing for the long-term health of the company.

After watching the inconsistent ways they spent money, seeing how they would fire their best management, and how the executives' compensation levels never changed despite the poor health of the company, I became very discouraged and was relieved to be laid off.

It will be hard for employees to find new sources of employment when/if the company finally folds. I think this could have a significant effect on Minnesota's unemployment. -- Kris Baggenstoss, St. Paul (8/23/05)

I'm a regular business flyer. Believe me, EVERYTHING that's been reported on (blowouts, diversion of flights, etc.) happened EVERY DAY, day and day out. And if you think Northwest is bad, fly United sometime.
- Paul Wahl, Northwest traveler


Our family purchased tickets for three trips in September and October on Northwest Airlines, back in the spring during a sale. How I regret my efficiency now.

After hearing the experiences of a friend about cancelled and delayed-by-hours flights since the strike began, I changed my daughter's flight to college in Vermont to another airline, and hope to get some of my money back from the NWA's flight I will cancel.

I am concerned about a trip my 81-year-old mother will take on NWA in October. If the strike continues, I will probably change her flight to another airline, also, despite the loss of $100 for the change.

For years, our extended family has been loyal to NWA, possibly because of a lack of initiative. No longer. This strike has opened our eyes to the advantages of other airlines.

It has also opened our eyes to the out-of-whack compensation for executives, in comparison to blue collar workers. I have yet to hear or read a report that the CEO of NWA and his managers have taken a 25 percent pay cut or reduced their numbers by 50 percent.

It is outrageous that the CEO of a company whose earnings have dropped significantly over the last three (or more?) years has received over $8 million in compensation over that same time. What has he done to be worth that much money? -- Margaret Lubozynski, Minneapolis (8/23/05)


My husband has been with Northwest airlines for 15 years and 11 months. He is a mechanic. He barely survived the 50 percent layoff three years ago, and would not have enough seniority to survive another 53 percent layoff (the company's last offer).

It is a very stressful company to work for, and although he is well paid it has been up and down, layoffs, concessions. Before the most recent contract they had gone for many years with no raise and no contract.

He moved to Duluth for the job when they opened the maintenance base 7-8 years ago. There are not many flights in and out of Duluth, and the company has frozen the mechanism that employees used to determine on-time flights. Many of the Duluth flights are Pinnacle or Mesabi.

Our family, my husband, myself and our two children have been up on the strike line the last three nights.

Even though they are on strike, their keys were taken and they were told to remove their property. The base up here appears to be closed. We are confused about his employment status.

If on strike, they lose health insurance Sept. 1 and are eligible for no pay. If they are locked out or laid off, they are eligible for uemployment or retraining dollars. We cannot get information from Northwest.

I have been stunned at the way Northwest Airlines treats its employees. They have certainly earned the bad blood that exists between them and their employee groups. The administration has not been true to their word in the past, and this leads the employees to rightly not trust them now. -- LaTina Else, Duluth (8/18/05)


I am amazed that MPR News and news outlets of every ilk in the Twin Cities are being duped into reporting every little mishap that occurs on a plane as something significant and newsworthy, now that the strike is on.

I'm a regular business flyer. Believe me, EVERYTHING that's been reported on (blowouts, diversion of flights, etc.) happened EVERY DAY, day and day out. And if you think Northwest is bad, fly United sometime.

This is a totally unfair characterization of what's going on and I wish it would stop. Go to a United terminal at MSP or an American terminal, poll the passengers there and you'll find about the same percentage of those people had a bad experience with their flight as Northwest, and none of those airlines are being struck!

And sorry, but adding "Northwest denies the incident is strike-related" may sooth your conscience, but it still doesn't make cheap-shot, cherry-picking reporting legitimate. -- Paul Wahl, Eden Prairie (8/25/05)


This labor dispute is going to hurt Northwest, in my opinion. The replacement workers have shown they do not know how to repair the planes.

I heard a story that the replacement workers did not even know how to add oil when the pilot called for oil prior to taking off. Two replacement workers did not know how to do this. Who did they hire? They have way too many planes sitting in the hangars to repair, and are not keeping up.

I feel if we have to pay higher gas prices to run our cars, we would be able to pay higher air fares for flights and know the safety issue is not a concern.

I never felt I needed to worry about the safety when the machanics are licensed and approved to fix an airplane. Keep the labor intact and protect the passengers before someone gets hurt. If I was a pilot I would not want to fly these planes, nor be a flight attendant.

My husband has worked at NWA as an airline inspector for 26 years. He inspects the airplane when it first comes in for repair, then the mechanics do the repairs that he wrote up. He then looks at the repairs completed before stamping his approval stamp on the card assigned to the plane.

I am told that the replacement workers are not all FAA- approved, trained or qualified for the position they are holding. However, I do not have proof. I heard one replacement worker walked off the line of duty, stating he had only three hours of training, and felt disqualified for the position. He was promised months of training and never got it.

While picketing, we noticed that the amount of planes leaving has dramatically lowered, although, NWA states differently.

I do need to fly soon, however I will not fly NWA since I know that the workers are not educated to keep the plane in the air.

Anyone working 26 years would not want to lose their pension plan, health benefits and have no sick days. A pay cut would be acceptable if it were not to be replaced to 1980 wages.

How is one to live in the year 2005 with 1980 wages? I believe in safety first, and NWA needs to realize that safety needs to come first before dollars. -- Marian Edman, St. Peter (8/25/05)


NWA has disrupted my travel plans in the past, but they helped me a great deal over the weekend. My grandfather died six days ago and I chose to travel home on short notice. NWA was very helpful in setting up my travel plans, and gave me a fairly large discount on airfare for attending his funeral.

The mechanic strike did not affect my travel itinerary this time around. Just wanted to give NWA a positive plug in the face of all the negative press out there. -- Billy Haug, Billings, Montana (8/24/05)


We boarded flight 189 to San Diego on time (about 8:45 for a 9:15 departure), but were soon told that the plane had been inspected, and two tires were noted as needing to be replaced before we could take off.

After a while of sitting on the plane, the crew decided to give out water and sell the "snack boxes" to passengers, which was helpful given the delay.

After about two hours on the plane, passengers were allowed to leave the aircraft, and go sit in the terminal. During this time, we were given little to no information regarding expected departure times.

After three hours of waiting, we went to a different gate to board a different airplane.

It was at this new gate that I first became aware of a fellow passenger who had five dogs scheduled to travel with her; four in the cargo hold, and one as a carryon. She was concerned that her dogs had been in their kennels since 4 a.m., and needed to be let out. I don't know how NWA reacted to her request at this time.

We started boarding about 1:10 p.m., five minutes before our scheduled departure. At this point, we also found out that the original pilots had run out of time, and new pilots were going to be taking the flight.

Once we were all on the plane, we started noticing several mechanics coming on and off the plane, and going to the cockpit. After sitting on this aircraft for over two hours without being told what was wrong, several passengers decided to just get up and leave.

At no time did the crew announce that we could leave the plane, and no water or food was offered while we were on the ground.

At this point, the woman with the dogs became very concerned, and started talking to the flight crew and the gate agents. You could see the look of panic in her eyes as she tried to fight for the rights of her pets, which I believe were show dogs.

Finally, the captain announced that the problem had been fixed, but that we were over weight restrictions, and some fuel had to be removed from the plane. He said it would be about 10-15 minutes before we could take off.

Another hour and a half passed, and we finally took off shortly after 4 p.m. I believe, around seven hours late. During the last hour, we heard the 10-15 minute story several times.

I believe the woman with the dogs was finally able to see her dogs, and to let them out to be cared for. It was terrible watching the fear on this poor woman's face.

For our trouble, NWA did give us each $100 coupons toward our next flight, as well as "amenity" coupons, such as a free drink, and a five-minute phone card.

While I know that there are always some maintenance issues with planes, clearly NWA was not able to react to the situations in the timeframe that would be considered normal. It was a very long day, but now I'm getting ready for my flight home. -- Jason Fenske, Minneapolis (8/23/05)


I'm a baggage handler for Northwest.

On Sunday from 0600-2230, 276 flights left, 223 were eight minutes late or longer. This eight-minute mark is what the government sees as not on time; 122 of these were a half an hour or longer.

On Monday on the G concourse, 106 flights went out, 85 with delays, 56 with 15 minutes or more, and 16 with at least an hour. I get this information from the tower at the airport.

Also, the cleaners that are doing the RONs (this stands for aircraft that Remains Over Night) which used to be done by striking cleaners, is being done by a contract company called Globe.

My coworkers and I have seen many unbadged workers being escorted by one worker with a badge. Airport police have been called, and the police had to look up the rules, and finally came to the conclusion that it's OK as long as the unbadged workers stayed within five feet of the badged worker. I know I can't escort anybody with my badge.

Having unbadged workers is dangerous because not having a badge means they haven't had a backround check. It goes against everything that the company and airport police has preached to us since 9/11. Many of the cleaners don't know English. I wonder how they got the job and who gave the interview. After all this is still America, right? -- D.M. (8/23/05)

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