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From: Richard Turk communications@amfa9.org
Sent: Monday, September 05, 2005
Subject: re: Your article in BW re: AMFA

Mr. Berner,

I WOULD LIKE TO POINT out some of the many inherently wrong assumptions on which you based your somewhat misinformed opinion in this article/opinion piece: http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/sep2005/nf2005091_8072_db042.htm

I look forward to comments as to my opinion or the accuracy of my statements below and perhaps equal consideration given in your publication.

Although it is one of the many membership driven stances of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) our National Director speaks about: a hard line against concessions is one of the less important ones. The reason for AMFAıs success in the airline industry is its wholesale belief in democracy and the power of a well-informed workforce and transparent leadership. The failings of the prior unions that have been decertified at various airlines drove the members to change their leadership. Without fail, the mechanics and cleaners that organized the AMFA drives had first tried to change the union that was on the property before giving up on their current union and organizing for AMFA. The inability of those prior unions to listen to their membership, either by purpose or ineptitude, was the reason for their subsequent failure. The idea of a truly democratic and membership run union is lost on many contemporary union leaders.

Democratic unionism is also lost on most airline management teams. Northwest may have been planning for a strike for 18 months, but what they didnıt plan on was the endurance and resolve of the mechanics group. Every action of AMFA is driven by the membershipsı will. Many management and outside "experts" donıt seem to comprehend the concept of the members telling the "boss" what to do, but that is exactly how it works in the AMFA. Northwest Airlinesı planned on at least 10% of the mechanics crossing the picket line within the first week, and 30% by now. That didnıt happen. In fact there have only been 4 or 5 of the 4400 on strike. The leadership of AMFA didnıt take the members out on strike; the members took the leaders on strike. This philosophical difference and the membersı resolve is the biggest flaw in Northwest Airlinesı plan to bust the union.

Another point apparently lost on Mr. Berner is the fact that AMFA doesnıt have a single paid organizer. Not one. AMFA doesnıt "raid" other unions; it simply provides the rank and file an option to their current representation. The mechanics that organize AMFA drives are not only current employees of the airline where the decertification drive is happening, but they pay for the costs from their own pockets.

Another fact lost on "experts" seems to be the simple fact that the famous "Low Cost Carrier" Southwest Airlinesı pay rate for their mechanics is higher than Northwest, even before they were forced out on strike. If Northwest could have their way, a mechanic at Northwest would make almost a third less than the mechanic at a profitable "Low Cost Carrier." The secret to Southwestıs success isnıt just fair wages however, it is the "employees first" attitude. In the horrific aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the only airline to pay its employees, even if they canıt even come to work, is Southwest. How productive will those employees be when they do have the opportunity to be able to get back to some semblance of a normal life and work?

The main point of my letter is to address the underlying theme of both Mr. Bernerıs and the many articles and opinions from so called labor experts I see in mainstream press currently:

How dare those workers think it reasonable that the company they work for pass the cost of fuel, aircraft, leases, landing fees, and exponentially increasing executive compensation to the customer. Just last week, the Institute for Policy Studies released the compensation numbers for 2004. The average U. S. CEO made 431 times what the average worker made in 2004. It was an already outrageous 301 times the average workerıs pay in 2001. Why would any hard working patriot question that kind of compensation?

How dare those workers not think they should take another pay cut to save a company time and time again, after watching prior cost savings given to help the airlines wasted on bad decisions and fare wars.

How dare those workers think it outrageous that their starting hourly wage has increased by only .19 CENTS per hour since 1982. (At United Airlines starting base rate as of Nov. 01, 1982 was $14.93. On Feb. 01, 2005 it was $15.12.)

How dare those workers be so arrogant to think that, at an average age of 52 at Northwest, they be entitled to a pension they have been contractually promised for 30 years. Never mind they put up with depressed wages to fund the pensions. Certainly they should not have depended on that for retirement? Didnıt they save money to fund their own retirement?

How dare those workers, who average over 20 years at Northwest Airlines, think they should make more money than they did in 1986. Certainly their costs havenıt gone up since then, and why should they be able to afford to send their children to college?

How dare those workers disagree with losing 75% of their workmates to the street over the last few years.

How dare those workers speak out against an industry that made well over 8 billion dollars in just the few years prior to 2000, while they received no compensation change and after taking pay cuts to "help the company."

How dare those workers think something is wrong when other highly skilled crafts such as dealership auto and diesel mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, etc., are better compensated than 20 year federally licensed 747 mechanics, with the incredible responsibility and liability that carries.

How dare those workers after seeing each airline get concessions from their workforce and squander the money on ill advised, money losing business decisions and management bonuses, think that if they take a 26% pay cut it wonıt keep the airline competitive for long. Never mind the fact that the employees gave huge concessions in 1993 to help Northwest, and the company still owes them $298,000,000.00 in deferred compensation after several highly profitable years following.

How dare those workers question the great "leaders" that have driven these companies into bankruptcy or to the brink of it, while increasing their own wages.

How dare those workers not trust management teams that would not pay into pensions for almost a decade, and when they become grossly under funded, just terminate the whole pension plan and toss the burden over to the government run Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation.

Perhaps we uppity airline mechanics should "know our place" as we have been told in negotiations. Maybe they should tell that to John Taylor, a Continental Airlines mechanic who made a repair years ago to an aircraft and the French government today wants to charge with manslaughter over the crash of the Concorde SST. We mechanics simply find it untenable to watch our wages stay stagnant, or even shrink, for over a decade while our basic life sustaining costs continue to spiral upwards.

At Delta Airlines just a few short months ago, management negotiated over $ 1 Billion per year in pay cuts from its pilots union. Exactly two weeks later, the top six officers gave themselves an $18.6 million dollar bonus. Today there is not one single "expert" out there who doesnıt agree Delta will file for bankruptcy before the middle of October. That is a key date by the way, as it will make it more difficult to hand out bonuses or stay in chapter 11 for longer than 18 months. What, exactly did that billion dollar pay cut by the union do to stave off bankruptcy?

The overall theme I see from many pundits and experts seems to be that a unionıs job should be to sacrifice anything in order to help a company that has squandered money, but should never be compensated when times are good for that very same company. The idea that companies should be able to turn to employees time after time to compensate for failed business doesnıt quite add up. At what point should someone say no. I am proud that democracy won on the decision to strike. Even though the mechanics who voted to strike knew full well it could be the end of Northwest Airlines, they felt enough was enough.

Northwest Airlines began planning for a strike action 18 months ago, even though the contract that governs the mechanics only became eligible for negotiations three months ago. Northwest Airlines came to the "bargaining" table with demands and had no intention of negotiating. This is by no ones definition bargaining in good faith, as required by law under the Railway Labor Act, which also governs airlines. Northwest Airlines is now trying to goad the flight attendants into the same situation and force them to strike. They have already hired replacement workers. They have used emotional and inflammatory proposals and remarks in negotiations, which have no real dollar value, attempting to anger the current employees. One example, of the many available, is Northwest made it clear they wanted language stating Northwest would not pay to ship the body of a flight attendant home from a foreign country, even if he or she died in the line of duty. This can serve no other purpose than to anger a workforce.

How dare THEM!!!

Take care,
Richard Turk
Communications Officer AMFA Local 9
San Francisco and the Hawaiian Islands

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