Sunday, January 29, 2006


I have a sister and a sister-in-law who belong to unions. They kind of have to, because of the careers they have chosen. They are sometimes grateful for the benefits that have been negotiated by their unions, sometimes frustrated by the bureaucracy and nonsense that comes with being a member of a union. But all in all, their status as union members seems to get them a little more juice from their oranges/employment situations than they might otherwise enjoy.

Fortunately, neither of them work in the travel industry.

Northwest Airlines' mechanics union went on strike last August. At that time the union represented over 4,000 mechanics. The news articles portrayed union officials and members as being furious at the airline over the large cuts in salary and outsourcing of their jobs they were faced with. Well, OK, I'd be upset too. But the airline was saying they faced a dire economic threat and could go under without the concessions. The union's only response to was to declare that after working at the airline for so long, they deserved better -- and that management were scoundrels. To me, that's like the airline telling the flying public that after carting us to vacations and business meetings for so long, we must all eschew Southwest Airlines and keep ponying up the big bucks to them. Sit down and eat your pretzels you rascals!

The next month, Northwest Airlines filed for bankruptcy. Today the union represents less than 1,000 mechanics.

Before the strike, the assistant national director of AMFA reportedly trumpeted that Northwest management was
"arrogant" and "egotistical" to conclude that the airline could operate without its veteran mechanics.

"It just really proves how disconnected they are from what we do," [the AMFA assistant director] said. "I'm afraid that our passengers and our co-workers are going to feel the brunt of this miscalculation."
The airline, of course, defied these dire predictions and continued to operate despite the strike. The union continued to appear disconnected from what the airline industry did.

I have this weird idea that people make rational economic decisions, on the whole, and so have been waiting for a news story that give me some explanation of why on earth the union went on this obviously suicidal strike. Our local paper finally ran an in-depth story today:
"AMFA probably recognized that the outsourcing thing was a reality," said Atkinson, the former AMFA local president who was laid off a month before the strike. "But emotionally, they would fight it all the way. They couldn't look at it logically and say, 'What can we save and what can't we?' "
So, I'm still waiting. Maybe I'm the one being illogical here, thinking there's a rational explanation. How foolish of me.


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