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NWA Mechanics - progress maybe

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Marriott Platinum Member
Dec 2, 2003

Last update: August 17, 2005 at 8:02 PM
Editorial: Averting a strike/NWA, union still have options

August 18, 2005 ED0818

No one wants to see a strike at Northwest Airlines. Not its customers, who would face anxiety and disruption even if they are willing to cross a picket line. Not its employees, who would face brutal economic losses. Not the average Minnesotan, who understands that the nation's No. 4 airline is a vital cog in the state economy.
So it was encouraging to hear hints of progress emerge from a federal mediation session in Washington on Wednesday. Officials of the mechanics' union said Northwest presented a new economic offer, though few details were available and the company refused to comment.

As recently as three days ago, Northwest and the union seemed locked into irreconcilable positions:

Northwest wants substantial cuts in the mechanics' pay and head count, and the evidence suggests that the carrier does need concessions. It has lost more than $3 billion since 2001 and has publicly discussed bankruptcy. Outside analysts such as the Wall Street firm Morgan Stanley say Northwest has higher labor costs than its competitors, even traditional unionized carriers such as Delta and American. Crucially, Northwest wants to subcontract more work to outside vendors, now a widespread industry practice.

Members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), on the other hand, are understandably troubled by Northwest's proposal to eliminate nearly half their jobs. Their membership already has fallen by more than half in recent years, from about 9,800 to about 4,400, and it's hard to imagine the majority of remaining members voting to ratify a contract that will wipe out a majority of their jobs.

In recent days, however, a few AMFA members have quietly begun to discuss a promising compromise: a voluntary buyout package with improved severance benefits. Some union members say that sizable numbers of their colleagues who are near retirement or simply burned out by turmoil in the airline industry would leave willingly if Northwest offered severance terms something like those now available to laid-off workers.

Why should Northwest sweeten its severance offer when it already faces financial straits? Because, even though it seems fully prepared to operate through a work stoppage, a strike could leave lasting damage on employee morale and customer relations. Why would union members pull back from the brink? Because a severance deal could offer an attractive exit to employees who want to leave, and thus preserve jobs for those who want to stay.

Some strikes are inevitable, and some represent the best way for private parties to settle private differences. This strike doesn't fall into either category, and we hope that negotiators can find common ground in the next 36 hours.


As far as why the company should offer a serverage package, the editorial writer ("dude") forgout one major point...

Dude forgot to point out or didn't realize that if an airline has to furlough, it furloughs its junior, cheaper, labor first, leaving it with its senior, most expensive labor. By finding a less hostile way of getting rid of the expensive labor at the top of your seniority list (encouraging early retirments), you're left with your junior, cheaper labor, requiring smaller paycuts to meet your budget goals.

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