- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Unionized mechanics from Northwest Airlines and other carriers picketed in front of the White House yesterday to protest President Bush's no-strike order against the Northwest workers.
Mr. Bush issued an executive order Friday prohibiting the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association from striking Northwest for 60 days. The union was prepared to strike at 12:01 a.m. yesterday.
Yesterday, some of the more than 30 union members in front of the White House said travelers could suffer flight delays or safety risks from "stressed out" or angry airline mechanics. They also said Mr. Bush is creating negative sentiment with labor groups that could influence upcoming contract negotiations with other airlines.
"It's an issue for all aircraft mechanics," said a United Airlines mechanic carrying a protest placard. Like the other protesters, he asked not to be identified.
"We're all in contract negotiations," he said as he stood in a group of about a dozen United mechanics in front of the White House. "This is going to be a big war."
Protesters nearby carried placards and chanted, "No more status quo. PEB must go." PEB stands for presidential emergency board, which has 30 days to propose a nonbinding settlement.
Airline mechanics protested yesterday outside the National Mediation Board several blocks from the White House and at airports nationwide.
Vic Remeneski, a union negotiator for the Northwest mechanics, said the implications of the president's order extend to other airlines when their labor contracts expire.
"It's a no-brainer," he said. "American, Delta and United are going to have the same presidential intervention when it comes their time, which is very soon."
John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, warned, "Any attempt by President Bush to short-circuit the full course of these discussions tilts the field unjustly against airline workers."
Federal mediators concluded a month ago that talks were at an impasse, a White House spokesman said Saturday.
The president's order imposes a 60-day cooling off period before the mechanics can take any job action against Northwest, the nation's fourth-largest airline. It also appoints a mediation board to resolve the labor dispute. The union represents 9,400 mechanics, cleaners and custodians at Northwest. The earliest they could legally strike would be mid-May.
The United mechanic protesting yesterday said safety could be jeopardized from problems with "morale and stress" the workers are enduring.
A few feet away, eight American Airlines mechanics discussed job actions. What the unions call "work-by-the-rule" but the airlines call "excessive write-ups" was mentioned as one protest method.
Under the job action, mechanics would be able to delay airplanes that require even routine maintenance until all the required paperwork is completed, rather than doing the paperwork while maintenance continues and after the flight leaves.
"Because our ability to strike has been taken from us, that is the only alternative we have," said an American Airlines mechanic who wanted to be identified only by the alias "Bill Jones." Officially, he said, "The union doesn't support it."
The presidential emergency board took over contract negotiations between Northwest and its mechanics yesterday after talks broke off Sunday. Unresolved issues involved the union's demand for increased pay and pension benefits.
The union asked for wages of up to $36 per hour for senior mechanics. Currently, they get $26.50 per hour. Northwest offered $31 per hour. For pension benefits, the union wanted Northwest to contribute $90 a month multiplied by the employee's years of service. Northwest offered $75.
Northwest spokesman Doug Killian said the company's offer would have given the mechanics a 19 percent pay increase and an 88 percent increase in pension benefits. Their average salary would have increased to about $65,000 per year before overtime, he said.
"Our proposal would have paid mechanics top wages in the industry," Mr. Killian said.
The company's senior vice president of labor relations, Robert Brodin, said in a press release Sunday night, "Over the last 48 hours, Northwest made off-the-record proposals on all economic issues. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to reach an agreement."
Both sides are awaiting directions from the presidential emergency board on how to proceed. "It's in their hands now," Mr. Killian said. "It's their procedures."
The emergency board has 30 days to propose a nonbinding settlement. The parties get an additional 30 days to resolve their dispute. If no agreement is reached, Congress can impose a settlement.
President Clinton appointed the last airline emergency board in 1997 to end an American Airlines pilots strike. The 1926 Railway Labor Act gives presidents authority to intervene in transportation labor disputes.

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