Northwest Airlines has hired security guards to watch its mechanics as the airline and mechanics union approach an Aug. 20 strike deadline a move that has escalated pressure in a tense environment.
Northwest managers have told union leaders for mechanics at Detroit Metro Airport and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport that the airline will add security at the two Northwest hubs.
In labor disputes, companies often hire security firms to monitor workers and prevent theft, sabotage and vandalism.
But the move has intensified workers' frustrations in a bitter dispute. The tension has compounded as workers learned of a dozen layoffs slated to take place next month.
In the Twin Cities, security guards appeared to be videotaping flight attendants and mechanics picketing a Northwest building there Wednesday, said Ted Ludwig, president of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 33 in Bloomington.
Northwest declined to comment on the company's plans for security. "We are not publicly discussing the suppliers that are part of our contingency plans," Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said.
The nation's fourth-largest airline, Northwest is seeking $1.1 billion worth of wage concessions from its workers. It got $300 million from pilots and salaried employees last year, but mechanics and flight attendants have resisted.
The mechanics could strike at 11:01 p.m. on Aug. 19 unless they make a deal with the company. The two sides are expected to keep meeting until the deadline. The company has vowed to keep flying even if a strike takes place.
Ludwig said he is worried that security guards may provoke mechanics at work or after Aug. 20, on a picket line. "We already have a very emotional group of people who have been here for a long time and who are going to be on strike."
Bob Rose, president of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 5, said that in the early 1990s, when Northwest hired a security firm during a potential labor dispute with its mechanics, the guards went too far.
"They're following you to the restroom. They're following you out to your airplanes," he said.
About a dozen mechanics who repair jet bridges were told last week they will be laid off by Aug. 15 so the airline can outsource that work, Rose said.
The rift is widening between the mechanics union at Northwest Airlines and the union representing the baggage handlers and other ground workers.
Northwest Airlines Corp. said on Tuesday that it chose not to make $42 million in debt payments in recent days, suggesting the carrier is conserving its cash ahead of a potential bankruptcy filing.
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.