NWA Mechanics Look for Support From Other Unions

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Northwest Airlines mechanics are trying to build solidarity as the deadline for a strike approaches, but most of the airline's other unions are noncommittal about joining the picket line.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association is hoping to win the other unionized workers over, counting partly on labor solidarity and on general outrage as the company has threatened to hire replacement workers.

But the Eagan-based airline is counting on those replacement workers and its financial position to convince employees that labor givebacks are its only option short of bankruptcy.

Northwest mechanics can strike after 12:01 a.m. EDT on Aug. 20. Both the airline and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association have said they want to reach a deal, but mechanics walked away from talks last week because management continued to press for $176 million in cutbacks from them.

''What really matters is whether the other unions at Northwest will support us,'' said Steve MacFarlane, a Northwest mechanic and assistant national AMFA director. ''And that remains to be seen. At this stage of the game it's pretty standard for everyone to remain silent and see if a strike occurs.''

The pilots and the ground workers unions at Northwest, which has a hub at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, have said they won't decide whether to honor mechanics' picket lines until a strike occurs.

The flight attendants union leaders have walked in informational picket lines with the mechanics, but last week a spokesman said, ''We are just keeping our options open.''

Some observers said local and national support is critical, and AMFA has bridges to mend.

AMFA represents about 16,500 airplane mechanics and related workers nationwide, and about 5,000 mechanics, cleaners and custodians at Northwest.

Relations between mechanics and the IAM have been strained since 1998, when Northwest's mechanics left the IAM to align with AMFA. The IAM represents about 14,400 Northwest agents, clerical workers, equipment service employees and stock clerks. AMFA represents close to 5,000 mechanics, cleaners and custodians.

Because IAM is an affiliate of the national AFL-CIO, the federation doesn't like AMFA, either.

''AMFA is a renegade, raiding organization that is creating havoc in the airline industry,'' said Stewart Acuff, national AFL-CIO organizing director. ''It's not in the house of labor. It doesn't have the strength of 11 million AFL-CIO workers behind it.''

AMFA also doesn't fit in a new labor movement toward large unions, which advocates that unions need to be bigger than the companies that they hope to organize.

This Unite to Win coalition includes the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which split from the AFL-CIO at its recent convention in Chicago.

It also includes UNITE-HERE, which represents 440,000 members in the textile and hospitality industries in the United States and Canada.

But Gary Chaison, industrial relations professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said he likes the AMFA model.

''It's the small, occupationally based, homegrown unions that are the real new alternative,'' he said. ''What's ironic about this new split is there's very much anti-small-union sentiment on both sides.''

Copyright 2005 Associated Press