Mechanics' Strike Could Threaten Airports in Iowa

Airports in Fort Dodge, Waterloo and Mason City depend entirely on Northwest Airlink carrier Mesaba Airlines for all commercial air travel.


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa airport directors have mixed feelings about assurances that air travel won't be threatened if mechanics for Northwest Airlines go on strike.

Northwest has asked the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association to take a 25 percent pay cut and to reduce its staff of 4,500 to about 2,000 workers. The union rejected the offer and made a counteroffer, which was rejected by the company. Negotiations were ongoing, and a strike deadline was set for 11:01 p.m. Friday.

Flight attendants are voting on whether to stage a sympathy strike, but balloting ends at the same time as the strike deadline.

Dan Mann, director of the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, said he was following the situation closely.

''If the flight attendants don't come to work, then all bets are off,'' Mann said. ''You can't replace flight attendants with private contractors.''

Airports in Fort Dodge, Waterloo and Mason City depend entirely on Northwest Airlink carrier Mesaba Airlines for all commercial air travel. Administrators at the airports said they have been told by Northwest that air travel would not be disrupted.

On Wednesday, Mesaba filed a lawsuit seeking to keep its own mechanics on the job if their Northwest colleagues walk the picket line.

''The majority of employees we've spoken with know this is not their fight. But considering what we have been hearing from AMFA leaders, we sought the injunction,'' said Mesaba spokeswoman Elizabeth Costello.

''If they choose to strike, to support the Northwest mechanics or improve their own standing in ongoing negotiations, that would be considered a secondary job action and that would be in violation of the law.''

Northwest and Mesaba mechanics work under separate contracts, but both are AMFA members.

Brad Hagen, director of the Waterloo Regional Airport, where Mesaba is the only commercial carrier, said he has been assured no flights would be disrupted by a strike.

''We've had a great working experience with Northwest. They've been a great partner with the community. So when they promise us publicly and privately that they will continue to fly, I trust it,'' Hagen said.

''Right or wrong or nobody's fault, Northwest has the highest labor cost of all legacy carriers. They need to cut cost to survive.''

Northwest's other regional carrier, Pinnacle Airlines Inc., has said it would fly a full schedule if there was a strike. The Tennessee-based company, like Mesaba, flies under the Northwest banner and gets nearly all its revenue from Northwest. Pinnacle mechanics are not unionized.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

We Recommend