Striking Northwest Employees Take Cause to Labor Day Parades

Northwest wants to cut their wages by about 25 percent and lay off about 2,000 workers, primarily cleaners and custodians.

Striking Northwest Airlines employees took their picket lines to the streets for Labor Day parades Monday, hoping their presence would help rally support from other unions.

"With the assault on labor right now, it was important for us to be out with all the unions," said Bob Rose, president of Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 5 in Detroit. More than 100 Northwest union members, family and friends joined him in a rally Monday.

"We need solidarity. This is a union town, and it's time to show that," Rose said.

The AMFA-represented Northwest mechanics, cleaners and custodians have been on strike since Aug. 20, when their contract with the company expired.

Northwest wants to cut their wages by about 25 percent and lay off about 2,000 workers, primarily cleaners and custodians. The union, representing 4,427 workers at Northwest, about 11 percent of the company's employees, doesn't like the offer.

The Labor Day parades gave Rose the opportunity to talk to fellow union leaders. He said he also plans to present the Northwest strikers' case at other unions' meetings in hopes of gathering more support.

Debbie Thirkelson, a Northwest flight attendant, said it has been a moral struggle to go to work. The flight attendants' union hasn't joined the mechanics, though Thirkelson said she voted to do so.

"I have to walk by these non-unionized guys who are doing my husband's job while he's picketing," she said.

The airline has been able to continue its flights by hiring replacement workers, a move that angered mechanics union members.

Northwest sued in Minnesota after AMFA members tried to block buses carrying replacement workers at three Minneapolis hotels. One striker was arrested and cited for blocking traffic.

"While AMFA members are entitled to picket peacefully, Northwest believes that it is improper to engage in actions that threaten the safety of people and property, and interfere with safe operation of vehicles on public roadways," the airline said in a written statement.

AMFA Local 33 President Ted Ludwig said he was served with the lawsuit late Friday.

"We didn't break any laws," he said. "We worked with police at all locations. If we had broken the law, the police would have put us in jail."

Northwest, based in Eagan, Minn., is the nation's fourth-largest carrier. It also has the oldest fleet among domestic airlines.

The company has said it needs about $1.1 billion through concessions from all its workers. Only pilots have agreed, accepting a 15 percent pay cut. Northwest is currently negotiating with ground workers and flight attendants, and it has said it can reopen talks with pilots once it gets concessions from the other groups.


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