Arrticle To Read


Sep 28, 2005

Posted on Sat, Oct. 22, 2005

• Northwest Airlines
• Transportation
• Airlines

Vote spurned, NWA hiring again

Union fears added restrictions on discipline


Pioneer Press

Northwest Airlines on Friday resumed hiring permanent replacements for striking mechanics, as the mechanics union refused to put a proposed contract settlement to a vote.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association said late Thursday that it could not bring the contract to members for a vote because Northwest inserted a "last-minute bombshell" into the return-to-work agreement.

The union argued that language proposed by Northwest would have taken away the union's right to address internal disputes between members that are outside the company's jurisdiction.

"That's typical Northwest, throwing up a roadblock at the last-minute'' AMFA region II director Jim Young said Friday.

The Eagan-based airline had given the union until noon Friday to start taking steps toward taking a vote on the contract. It didn't. The strike, which started at 11:01 p.m. Aug. 19, continues.

Northwest said the disputed provision was part of a customary effort to avoid post-strike retaliation. It was intended to limit the sanctions that the union could apply to members who crossed picket lines, the airline said.

"We are disappointed that for the third time, AMFA leadership chose not to provide their membership with the opportunity to vote on Northwest's proposal," the airline said.

Northwest would not say exactly how many permanent replacements it has hired or how many AMFA members have crossed picket lines to return to work.

The airline previously indicated that it hired replacement workers for more than half of the 1,080 mechanic jobs the company plans to keep in-house.

The airline has outsourced or eliminated about 3,000 jobs of mechanics and cleaners, who also are AMFA members, since the strike began. Under the post-strike contract Northwest imposed on mechanics, their annual top pay was cut from $72,000 to $55,000.

The union views restrictions on its ability to discipline members as a "poison pill," said John Remington, a professor of industrial relations at the University of Minnesota.

"The more skeptical might well view it as an attempt to break … decertify AMFA," he said. "Given the fact that AMFA absolutely distrusts NWA, the AMFA response shouldn't be surprising."

MFA had to call off the vote because the contract violated its constitution, said John Budd, a professor of human resources at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

"This is the prudent thing to do; otherwise, AMFA would find itself in a complicated political and legal bind," Budd said.

At this point, the union either must reach an agreement on the contested language, continue the strike or make an unconditional offer to return to work, Remington said.

In other developments Friday, East Texas Capital Partners, which says it held up to 1 percent of the common stock of Northwest Airlines this year, contends the airline didn't have to file for bankruptcy and shareholders are entitled to some money. Northwest filed for bankruptcy Sept. 14.

The investment firm has asked the judge overseeing Northwest's bankruptcy to appoint an equity securities committee, which would look out for shareholders' interests. Such committees are rarely formed because shareholders typically get nothing from a bankrupt company.