Flight cancellations continue under worker slowdown over contract talks

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Flight cancellations and delays continued to be scattered throughout Northwest Airlines’ system on Wednesday, as workers staged slowdowns to protest a lack of progress in contract talks.
Northwest spokeswoman Marta Laughlin said Wednesday that 40 to 70 flights have been canceled systemwide on three or four days, not all in a row. Twenty to 30 a day is typical.
“We don’t tolerate this sort of behavior,” said Northwest spokesman Jon Austin, who said the airline would “take appropriate action.”
Laughlin said the company is taking steps to minimize delays but declined to elaborate. An internal Northwest memo detailing the slowdown says much of the maintenance work will be shifted elsewhere from the Twin Cities, perhaps permanently. She would not confirm the memo.
Company spokesman James Faulkner has said pilots and mechanics are checking more closely for minor maintenance problems that could wait.
Vince Bazzachini, president of the International Association of Machinists Local 1833, said Wednesday mechanics are not sabotaging flights but just being particularly careful during contract talks.
“If a flight should leave, it will leave, but we will make sure that there’s nothing there that management can blame on us,” Bazzachini said.
Passengers were inconvenienced and frustrated.
“It’s a mess,” said Guy Doud of Brainerd, Minn. He spent several hours at the Romulus airport Monday trying to connect to Greensboro, N.C., before giving up and flying back home to Minnesota.
“I don’t want to get in the middle of a labor dispute, but from a casual flier’s viewpoint, people ought to know what’s going on,” Doud said.
Laughlin said most passengers, especially those not using Northwest hubs, will not notice delays.
“We’re talking between 40 to 70 flights on a couple of days out of 1,700” systemwide, she said.
She said passengers with canceled flights are being handled the same as usual, with alternate flights on Northwest and other airlines or in same cases with refunds. Identifying which flights were delayed or canceled because of the slowdown is difficult, she said.
Negotiations have been under way since fall 1996, with limited progress, for more than 40,000 unionized Northwest workers.
The dispute can be traced back to Northwest’s brush with bankruptcy in 1993, when steep union concessions saved the airline. Those concessionary contracts became eligible for amending in late 1996.
Northwest is negotiating with three large unions and three smaller ones. The biggest are the International Association of Machinists, which represents 25,000 full- and part-time ground workers, including ticket agents, mechanics, and baggage handlers; the Teamsters, which represents 10,000 flight attendants; and the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 5,800 pilots.