September 01, 2005
Business Week Comes Down on AMFA's Northwest Strike
The latest Business Week features a critical article on the strike against Northwest. I provide a link and excerpts below:
This Hardball Union Is Striking Out
Since founding an airline mechanics union behind the ongoing Northwest Airlines strike four decades ago, labor leader O.V. Delle-Femine has built its membership on a core principle: Make no wage concessions to management. For years that position worked, allowing the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Assn. to raid existing unions at such airlines as Southwest Airlines (LUV ) and United Airlines (UALAQ ) to swell its ranks.
Now the Northwest (NWAC ) walkout seems likely to spell the death knell for hard-line labor positions in the troubled airline industry. Many of the mechanics who quit the much larger International Association of Machinists in favor of AMFA's tough approach probably won't get their jobs back. Their likely defeat will reverberate among other unionized airline workers, too, dampening any idea that Delle-Femine's go-it-alone tactics are worth emulating.
Instead, airline workers at most major carriers will continue to face painful wage and benefit adjustments as their employers struggle to cope in a fiercely competitive, loss-plagued industry. The Northwest strike "will cause the collapse of AMFA," predicts Ray Abernathy, president of Abernathy Associates, a Washington (D.C.) consulting firm that advises unions on strategy.
CRAFT POWER. More broadly, AMFA's uphill struggle illustrates just how weakened organized labor has become across the economy. True, airline unions operate under special federal laws that don't apply to auto workers or most other labor groups. But the ease with which Northwest has replaced 4,300 skilled mechanics shows how vulnerable virtually every kind of employee has become.
AFMA has tried to re-create worker clout based on an outdated notion of craft power more suited to the early 20th century than to today's globalized, deregulated economy. "Workers have to organize in bigger unions across whole sectors" or they will fail, says Bruce Raynor, president of UNITE/HERE, the needle trades and hotel workers union.
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