- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

The union of mechanics, custodians and airplane cleaners at Northwest Airlines decided early this morning to walk off the job just after midnight, the first major strike in the airline industry in seven years.

Union spokesman Jim Young said the mechanics would rather see the airline go into bankruptcy than agree to Northwest’s terms. The union, which represents 4,427 of Northwest’s 40,000 workers, decided to strike at 12:01 a.m. EDT today.

Labor and management negotiators had gathered for a final day of contract talks yesterday at the National Mediation Board in an attempt to prevent a strike by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).

But the two sides made little progress.

“We have not met with the company. We have been working internally and have had several discussions with mediators,” AMFA negotiator Jeff Mathews said outside the building on K Street Northwest in the District where talks were held.

Union members said they expected to set up picket lines at airports throughout the United States, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Northwest, the nation’s fourth-largest airline, operates about 1,600 flights each day. The airline has 58 flights a day at Reagan Airport, 18 flights a day at Dulles Airport and 14 flights a day at BWI.

Union members also planned to picket at Northwest hubs in Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis, Tenn.

“I really don’t think Northwest wants to get a deal done,” said Ted Ludwig, president of AMFA Local 33, the union outside Minneapolis that represents 2,500 mechanics, cleaners and custodians.

Mr. Ludwig, who did not attend negotiations in the District, said Northwest early yesterday sent home AMFA members in Minneapolis who perform heavy maintenance.

Northwest mechanics were able to strike today because a government-mandated, 30-day cooling-off period had ended.

Union negotiators bristled late Thursday at what Northwest called its “last, best offer” and threatened to boycott the final day of talks. Union officials said it resembled all other offers, which call for cuts by the union of $176 million annually. The cuts would be achieved by eliminating an estimated 2,000 jobs and cutting pay for the remaining 2,350 workers by 26 percent.

The union has countered with its own proposal, but Northwest officials said it fell far short of the concessions required to avoid bankruptcy. Northwest is seeking changes to labor agreements that would save the company $1.1 billion annually.

Northwest has said a strike will not affect daily operations. It recruited and trained 1,200 replacement workers and 300 managers to step in. Northwest has another 400 mechanics available at third-party vendors.

The Federal Aviation Administration had said it will intensify oversight of Northwest if the mechanics strike.

Mr. Ludwig said the union believes Northwest’s plan to use replacement workers will fail.

“They are trying to bust our union. We feel we can take everyone off the property and give ourselves more leverage. If we take their deal, we lose job security. We either face extinction or walk off the property and let their replacements try to keep up with the flight schedule, and we think they will fail,” Mr. Ludwig said.

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