On July 20, the National Mediation Board declared an impasse in negotiations between Northwest and its mechanics represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA). The parties were released from mediation which began a 30-day “cooling-off period” after which a strike or lockout could occur.
I find it ludicrous that this period of time between the impasse and ability for job action is called a “cooling-off period.” It would be more appropriate to call it a countdown to chaos or a heating-up period.
The cooling-off period last month was full of tension. In a bid to shore up customer confidence, Northwest announced that no disruption in service would happen should a strike occur. As part of its contingency plan, the company deployed replacement mechanics to various parts of the country, ready to cross the picket lines in the event of a strike. The company also forced its flight attendants to train replacement workers that the company would use should the flight attendants honor the mechanics’ picket line, a move that infuriated the flight attendants union.
Also during the cooling-off period, Northwest used a charter company called Champion Air for several flights between Detroit and Dallas. This upset the pilot’s union, which called the action a breach of Northwest’s pilot contract, and the union filed a grievance with the company. In response, the company said it invoked the contingency plan of using the charter flights as a result of an “abnormally high level of aircraft that are currently out of service” insinuating there was a work action occurring by the mechanics. These actions are not things I would consider conducive to cooling off, but rather bringing the situation to a boiling point.
Emotions were high as the strike deadline approached. On the afternoon of Aug. 19 Northwest started handing mechanics pink slips. Mechanics started to organize outside the passenger terminal. I was at MSP and talked to many mechanics in the evening hours leading up to the strike. A feeling of anger and futility were in the air.
The mechanics I talked to said that it came down to the company trying to force them to vote themselves out of a job. As one mechanic put it “if the company is going to lay off 50 percent of us, I have a 50/50 chance of losing my job anyway. I might as well go down fighting!” Several mechanics I talked to said this was the last straw. Their love of aviation is no longer enough to keep them in the industry and they are already making plans to enter other career fields and never look back.
To our fellow mechanics on strike at Northwest, many of whom I had the privilege to meet as the strike approached, my thoughts are with you and your families as you go through this difficult time.
These are definitely chaotic times in the airline industry. It is a shame to see what happened in the days and hours leading up to Aug. 20. Cooling-off period? Nothing could be further from the truth!
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