Greedy Northwest burns labor unions

After two years of negotiations, the National Mediation Board has declared an impasse and cleared the way for Northwest pilots to strike on Aug. 29. Less recognized but equally important is the looming threat of a strike from Northwest’s machinist’s union. In response to the approaching deadline of the pilot strike, Northwest Airlines and numerous Republican governors have asked President Clinton to intervene. Although a strike will have a negative economic impact on Minnesotans and certainly cause many travel headaches, presidential intervention is not wise. The union has been treated unfairly by Northwest and deserves to negotiate by the use of collective bargaining.
The president has the authority to intervene in an airline or railway strike under the Railway Labor Act. Should this power be exercised, Clinton can order a halt to strikes and appoint a presidential emergency board to recommend the terms of a settlement. Clinton exercised this right last year under different circumstances with American Airlines, calling a halt to its strike immediately after the walkout. The Air Line Pilots Association strongly opposes Clinton’s intervention, while Northwest, which stands to lose more than $27 million per day should the pilots strike, welcomes presidential intervention. The union asserts that the most effective way to reach an agreement is to negotiate between the two parties involved, rather than abide by a decision made by an outside party. The union should have this right. Pilots have already declined an offer of arbitration, preferring to settle the matter directly with Northwest.
Pilot complaints revolve around job security, compensation, vacation time and retirement. Northwest, the country’s fourth largest carrier, is fighting a work force embittered by pay cuts that began earlier in the decade. Facing bankruptcy, Northwest asked workers to submit to wage cuts that totaled $850 million from 1993 to 1996. There is animosity among workers who have watched Northwest’s profits soar to record highs in the last four years. Angry that executives are reaping the benefits of the enormous growth through stock dividends, machinists and pilots want their share.
Republican Gov. Arne Carlson asserts that the negative economic impact on the state outweighs the pilots’ right to strike. He and six other Republican governors whose states would be impacted by the strike have written President Clinton a letter urging him to step in. Many Democratic leaders disagree, prompting 30 congressional Democrats to write Clinton asking him to allow the collective bargaining process to continue unhindered. The Democrats have the right idea. If Clinton steps in, he will be sending a message to all other carriers that they can avoid the collective bargaining process and simply wait for federal intervention.
Northwest pilots have given the company ample time to negotiate a settlement. Without a deadline, negotiations might have dragged on indefinitely. The reason for a strike is to put pressure on an employer. Intervention by the president will take away that trump card from the union. Let Northwest and its pilots reach a compromise alone.