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   Vol. 69/No. 38           October 3, 2005  
 
 
Strikers rally as Northwest files for bankruptcy
(front page)
 
BY NELSON GONZALEZ  
ST. PAUL, Minnesota—More than 500 unionists on strike against Northwest Airlines and their supporters filled the AmeriSuite parking lot for a solidarity rally September 15. The event was organized at the dispatch center of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA). The union organizes the striking mechanics, custodians, and cleaners. AMFA called the rally in response to the company’s attempt to deal the strikers another blow by filing for bankruptcy protection the day before.

“There is no collective bargaining agreementů there is no forum, no hearing, no issue whatsoever between the company and AMFA in bankruptcy court,” said Northwest chief executive officer Doug Steenland at a September 14 press conference. Northwest pilots learned the next day of the company’s intention to lay off another 400 of them, on top of deep concessions the pilots have already agreed to. The bosses said they had permanently replaced 900 striking cleaners and were beginning to hire permanent replacements for the mechanics who walked out.

The company also announced it would use the bankruptcy proceedings to dump the pension plans of the entire workforce—including the Machinists—despite previous statements to the contrary.

The strike began August 19 when the unionists rejected the company’s “final offer,” which included cutting 2,000 jobs—half the AMFA workforce—reducing wages by 25 percent, freezing pensions, and boosting the subcontracting of mechanics’ work. In subsequent talks with AMFA the first half of September, the company proposed steeper concessions—eliminating three-fourths of the jobs of 4,400 AMFA members who struck, and deeper wage cuts.

Delta, the country’s third-largest carrier, also filed for bankruptcy protection September 14. Company officials said they would announce pay and benefit cuts, along with layoffs that “will not be small,” and may get rid of Delta’s pension plan.

The two companies follow in the footsteps of US Airways and United Airlines, which have used bankruptcy proceedings the last two years to impose similar wage and benefit cuts.

“Obviously the strike isn’t over,” said Steve McFarlane, a national officer of AMFA, at the September 15 rally. He pointed out that fewer than 10 mechanics have crossed the picket line.

Jim Young, chairman of the union’s negotiating committee, also said the strike would continue until the company offered “a reasonable deal.”

Workers at the rally expressed their willingness to keep up the fight. The event featured a number of International Association of Machinists (IAM) members who have either refused to cross the picket lines or are actively working among IAM members to organize support for the strike.

The IAM national leadership has not backed the AMFA strike.

“Even though it cost me my marriage and I can’t see my kids, I just couldn’t do it—as a union member I couldn’t cross the picket line,” Aaron Maditch, 31, an IAM member who has worked at Northwest for seven years, told the crowd.

Kip Hedges, a member of the IAM who has refused to cross the mechanics’ picket lines, and Karen Schultz, a staff person for the Professional Flight Attendant’s Association (PFAA), co-chaired the rally.

Pointing to the hundreds of strikers and supporters at the rally, Schultz explained, “There is no such thing as a sympathetic bankruptcy court judge. You only get sympathy when you organize this in front of the court steps.”

Schultz then announced that five flight attendants have refused to cross the mechanics’ picket lines. She invited on stage numerous flight attendants on hand at the rally from their bases in New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Honolulu, and other parts of the United States who spoke in support of the strike.

Other labor speakers included representatives of the United Transportation Union, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), Association of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Carpenters union. In addition to bringing messages of solidarity, unionists donated funds to the strikers, including $5,000 from MAPE.

Cheers went up from the crowd as John Killeen, a representative of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 897 bargaining committee, was introduced. Killen spoke on behalf of the union’s national leadership. The UAW had recently donated $880,000 to support the strikers. “There are 30 of us here,” Killen said, referring to Local 897 members from the local Ford plant who took part in the rally. “We know a strike is a hard thing to do. But we are with you. Regardless of the politics going on in the union movement, regardless of the leadership, workers have to support workers. We support you, we hope you will support us.”

In closing remarks at the rally, Ted Ludwig, president of AMFA Local 33, said he had received e-mail messages questioning the decision to go on strike. “There is no way we could have accepted any more abuse. Our place is on the picket lines,” he said. “If we fight for as long as it takes, we will win and get back to work.”

After the rally more than 100 cars formed a caravan that traveled past striking pickets on duty at one of the airline maintenance entrances. Two participants were arrested and later released.

Additionally, a flyer was circulated by the Twin Cities Northwest Workers Solidarity Committee announcing a fund-raiser to aid the strike set for September 30 at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789 hall in South St. Paul.
 
 
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