Good Plan . . . Bad Timing: Northwest vs. AMFA

Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, American, America West, Continental, Delta, Federal Aviation Administration, JetBlue, National Transportation Safety Board, Northwest, Southwest, US Air Info: Stephen Prentice takes a look at the recent...


The bankrupt companies can easily defer or cancel aircraft leases, not pay bills coming due, and cancel many other debts in order to save money. The lenders and lessors don’t want their aircraft returned anyhow … what would they do with them? There is no present market for a bunch of passenger jets, except maybe to convert some of them to freighters.

Time For a Change

The RLA is an antiquated labor negotiation law that has reached the end of its road. It should be revised and or replaced with a new law that will provide for expedited decisions in these kinds of labor disputes. It has been on the books since 1926. In 1936 it was extended from railroads to air carriers. The RLA is designed to prolong the negotiating process at every turn and to provide for extended arbitration and mediation. Congress at that time felt that it was necessary that transportation of people and cargo should not be interrupted by labor disputes and strikes. The law works against the workers because of the extended times for negotiations to continue.

In a previous Northwest strike by AMFA some years ago, the President got involved and said that … “he would take the necessary steps to prevent airline strikes from happening this year …” He even signed an order for the appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board two days before the strike deadline. The result was a continued delay of 90 days before a strike could occur. Later the dispute was settled. AMFA at that time called the President’s action interference with collective bargaining. We all agreed. Strikes are effective and the only real power that the worker has to balance the inherent power of the employer. The President’s action in this former AMFA strike threat was effective in taking away a major union bargaining chip. Is it any wonder that they settled at that time?

The RLA should be changed. A date certain for the termination of contracts should be enacted. If the airline industry were regulated under the National Labor Relations Board rather than the RLA, with a date certain for the termination of contracts, the whole process would move forward more efficiently. There would be strong incentives on both sides to reach agreements early in the process. Bankruptcy obviously is another process that interferes seriously with the power of the strike. The company now has the power, through the court, to make summary changes in all areas including wages, benefits, and especially pensions, under the rules of bankruptcy law, subject only to the oversight of the court. If the union had been able to strike at a much earlier date the result may have been different. Again, unfortunately, the RLA prevented this.

Perhaps the new bankruptcy law taking effect on Oct. 17 will help out a bit but we still have the RLA. Maybe things will change …

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