Northwest Reports Few Delays on Day One of Mechanics Strike

Times Staff Writers

Northwest Airlines Corp. said it weathered the first day of a strike by its mechanics with few disruptions Saturday, and the carrier rejected union claims that delays would mount as the walkout went on.

It appeared to be business as usual for Northwest at Los Angeles International Airport, where a handful of union members picketed outside Terminal 2, and at Northwest’s major hubs in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit.

“Operations are running normally,” Andrew C. Roberts, Northwest’s executive vice president of operations, said at a news conference in Minneapolis. “We certainly don’t expect delays to increase.”

Some passengers at LAX said they were worried there might be problems as Northwest moved in more than 1,500 recruits and management personnel to replace the striking mechanics, aircraft cleaners and other ground workers.


“I have concerns, but I think I’ll get home,” said Dan Dunzille, a 34-year-old chef who was returning to Indianapolis on Northwest after a three-week visit to Southern California. “I just don’t want to be in Los Angeles another day.”

In Detroit, four tires blew out on a Northwest jet during landing, but no injuries were reported, and it was premature to speculate on the cause, Northwest spokeswoman Jennifer Bagdade said.

“Issues like this occur from time to time at any airline, and at Northwest we investigate any such operational issues,” Bagdade said.

The Boeing 757, Northwest’s Flight 210 from Seattle, was carrying 222 passengers.


In the first major U.S. airline strike in seven years, members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Assn. union, walked out Friday night after refusing to accept major concessions demanded by the nation’s fourth-largest airline. Rankings are determined by passenger traffic.

Northwest, based in Eagan, Minn., is close to filing for bankruptcy because of massive losses, relatively low fares and soaring jet-fuel prices.

The airline is seeking to save $1.1 billion a year through its work force, including $176 million from the mechanics union, which would mean laying off about half of its members.

Union officials said travelers should expect cancellations or delays during the strike. Northwest executives disagreed.


The airline’s pilots, flight attendants and other unionized ground workers are on the job.

The strike occurred on the day Northwest reduced its schedule, to about 1,500 average daily flights from 1,600. The carrier typically lightens its service in advance of the slower fall travel season, and this year it moved up that change by one week in anticipation of a mechanics strike.

Didier Lemarchand, who was waiting with his wife and three children for a Northwest flight from LAX to Detroit and then a connecting flight to his home in Paris, said he hadn’t heard about the strike until he arrived at the airport.

“I was surprised to see this,” Lemarchand said. “We are always afraid that workers will strike in France, never in the U.S.”


At least one rival carrier, UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, said it stood ready to accommodate any Northwest passengers whose flights were delayed or canceled. United said travelers with electronic reservations would need a paper ticket from Northwest to transfer.

Northwest said its last offer to the union “was a fair and equitable proposal” that cut costs enough to avoid bankruptcy.

The airline not only sought to lay off about half of the union’s workers, it wanted to reduce the remaining workers’ pay by 25%. Senior union mechanics earn about $70,000 a year.

Other major airlines have cut their payrolls and their wage and benefit levels in recent years, especially as they compete with the growing clout of discount carriers. They’re also increasingly hiring outside vendors to perform their maintenance.


Jennifer Clark of San Pedro, a 40-year-old Northwest mechanic who was among the pickets Friday night at LAX, said the pressure to slash workers’ wages was becoming too much.

“I’ve got to change careers because of stuff like this,” Clark said.

This report includes information from Associated Press.