- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

Northwest Airlines mechanic Tom McNulty knew that when he walked onto the picket line yesterday, he may have stepped into the unemployment line.

“I believe the company had a chance to break the union, and they did. I don’t believe we’ll be back,” said Mr. McNulty, 49, while picketing outside Terminal A at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Mechanics, custodians and airplane cleaners at Northwest went on strike just after midnight yesterday, refusing to accept a company demand to eliminate more than 2,000 jobs and cut pay by 26 percent for the remaining workers.

The 4,430-member Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) set up pickets throughout the United States.

Officials at Northwest, the nation’s fourth-largest airline, said replacement workers took over for striking workers and that flight operations were running smoothly.

“Our operations are running particularly well,” said Andy Roberts, Northwest’s executive vice president of operations.

Just 1,500 replacement workers are filling in for the airline’s striking workers. Pickets yesterday predicted it was a matter of time before Northwest fails to keep up with flight operations, and they feared the company’s strategy will put passengers at risk.

“What kind of training do the replacement workers have? As this goes on, you’d better believe passengers are at risk,” Northwest lead mechanic Donnie Smith, 53, said at Reagan Airport.

Using replacement workers won’t compromise flight safety, Mr. Roberts said. Replacement workers include furloughed United Airlines and Delta Air Lines mechanics.

“Our replacement technicians are highly trained and experienced mechanics,” Mr. Roberts said.

Despite the company’s claim that flight operations were running smoothly, there were some hitches on the initial day of the strike.

A jet landing yesterday afternoon in Detroit blew out four tires on the runway, the Associated Press reported. No injuries were reported, and the airline was investigating the cause. At least 52 Northwest flights nationally were canceled from 6 a.m. to noon, according to information the union obtained from the company.

There were 48 flight delays at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, one of Northwest’s three domestic hubs.

“I think management has it in its head that it can run the airline themselves,” said Brad Burns, a member of the AMFA negotiating committee and union representative based in Homer, Alaska.

Passengers at Reagan Airport had conflicting views of the strike.

David Zesiger, of the District, said he preferred not to fly the airline so he could show his support for the union, but he bought his ticket months ago.

“So I feel like I’m kind of stuck,” he said. “But if I had a choice, I wouldn’t fly Northwest out of respect for the workers.”

Joe Giantelli, of Rockville, said he didn’t feel unsafe boarding his Northwest Airlines flight to Memphis simply because the company’s mechanics are striking.

“I could care less,” he said.

Negotiations appear to have little chance of resuming anytime soon, but a union official did not rule out the possibility of returning to the bargaining table.

“If they call, sure, we’ll go back,” said Bob Rose, president of AMFA Local 5 in Detroit.

Striking workers have not been fired.

Northwest claims it is losing $4 million a day, and the airline has turned to its unions for massive concessions to avoid bankruptcy. The company wants to cut labor costs by $1.1 billion annually, and it asked the union of mechanics, custodians and airplane cleaners to agree to job and salary cuts that would have saved $176 million a year.

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