The union for striking Northwest Airlines mechanics says the airline is violating a Metropolitan Airports Commission ordinance that prohibits the employment of "professional strikebreakers" at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
But the MAC says Northwest has not violated the ordinance because the airline has not hired people who make their living by regularly breaking strikes.
The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association on Wednesday asked the MAC to investigate the matter. It wasn't saying what it would do if the commission dismissed the union's contention, as seems to have been done already.
"We expect them to respond with an explanation of the position they're taking,'' said union attorney Brendan Cummins. "Then we can make a decision about what we can do."
Some 4,100 mechanics and cleaners struck the airline in August. Northwest has outsourced most of their work, opting to keep just 880 in-house mechanics at its Twin Cities and Detroit hubs.
Those replacement mechanics — now permanent Northwest employees — were recruited from workers initially brought in as temporary workers.
Cummins said the ordinance criminalizes employees who act as professional strikebreakers.
Employees who worked for firms that provided replacement mechanics to Northwest and who then joined Northwest as permanent employees are professional strikebreakers, Cummins argues.
"They have worked for two employers as strikebreakers,'' he said. "They've acted repeatedly as strikebreakers."
But the MAC, which operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, says these workers don't meet the definition of professional strikebreakers, and it doubts the ordinance would stand up in court anyway.
The MAC enacted the ordinance in 1970 when organized groups went around the country intent on breaking strikes, said MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan.
State law allows the commission to pass ordinances to govern its internal management and operation of its airports, which include several smaller airports around the Twin Cities. The ordinances address a wide range of issues, from requiring electric cart operators to be able to read and speak English to restricting the height of trees near Crystal Airport.
The ordinance cited by AMFA, Hogan said, defines professional strikebreakers as people who are hired again and again for the purpose of breaking strikes.
"The ordinance does not prohibit companies from hiring replacement workers,'' Hogan said. "Many of the people (now at Northwest) are AMFA members who crossed the picket lines or were laid off by Northwest or other airlines. … We haven't seen any evidence that any of them are professional strikebreakers."
Northwest insists the ordinance is irrelevant in its labor dispute with AMFA.
"The investigation requested by AMFA is entirely without merit, and their pursuit of it is a waste of AMFA's limited resources,'' said airline spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch. "A significant number of the maintenance technicians working for Northwest in the Twin Cities and Detroit were striking or furloughed members of AMFA who elected to return to work."
He would not say how many AMFA members have crossed picket lines.
Martin J. Moylan covers airlines and can be reached at email@example.com.
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