Supporters rally for Northwest Airlines workers

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — One week after their walkout began, striking Northwest Airlines workers got a much-needed boost at a large outdoor rally.

Hundreds of people turned out Aug. 27 to support the 4,400 members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association outside the union’s strike headquarters near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Earlier in the day, a Solidarity Committee met to plan activities to support the strike.

The typical union rally would feature officers of the AFL-CIO and major unions. But because AMFA is an independent union not affiliated with the labor federation — formed by a split six years ago with the International Association of Machinists – such speakers —were in short supply. But a number of elected officials and candidates for office filled the void.

Dave Foster, director of District 11 of the United Steelworkers, was one of the few union officers to address the crowd.

“I’m here to bring you a message of solidarity from the Steelworkers,” he told the strikers. His message, like many others at the rally, emphasized the need for workers to unify in the face of attacks by Northwest and other employers.

“We understand the value of the sacrifice you’re making today can’t be measured in dollars and cents,” Foster said. “We want the jobs that make the American dream possible.”

AMFA stands alone in its walkout. Most members of the Machinists, Professional Flight Attendants Association and the Air Line Pilots Association are crossing the AMFA picket line and keeping Northwest operating — along with replacement workers, “scabs,” hired to do the work that had been performed by AMFA members.

Machinist Kip Hedges, one of about 50 members of his union honoring the picket line, said it was the right thing to do.

“We are all the same,” he told the crowd at the rally. “The company hates every one of us and wants to bust every single one of the unions on the property. If we don’t stand together, we are all dead. That’s why I don’t cross.”

Many of the elected officials who spoke said they are concerned that Northwest has received many handouts from taxpayers, then demanded that AMFA give up half its jobs and cut wages by 25 percent.

“We’ve got a right to expect that a company we have given so much to, has a duty to give back to its employees and the rest of Minnesota,” said state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley), to loud cheers. “No airline that treats mechanics like this deserves a monopoly at the Lindbergh airport!” he shouted.

Many speakers also noted that while the airline faces possible bankruptcy, current and former Northwest executives have been making huge profits by selling their stock.

“It’s wrong to put workers at the end of the line while owners of the company cash in their stock,” said Hennepin County District Attorney Amy Klobuchar.

Other speakers at the rally included Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.

Reprinted with permission from workdayminnesota.org.