Waking A Sleeping Giant
Tue, 16 May 2006 -- MEMBERS OF THE International Association of Machinists have exploded onto the scene as a result of Northwest Airlines' unwillingness to bargain in good faith after union baggage handlers and stock clerks rejected a proposed contract.
On Sunday, May 14, at NWA's Minneapolis hub, eyewitnesses said approximately 400 union members gathered at gate C-11 for a ramp rally. Negotiators for the Company were on board an aircraft at that gate, bound for New York. They were going to present arguments in bankruptcy court to abrogate baggage handlers and stock clerks union contracts.
Workers used the sides of baggage carts to write messages in chalk to the negotiators, who were seen looking out aircraft windows. Among the messages were- "We have given enough." "We are united." "190 million? No way!" Workers had driven their equipment to the gate, creating a sea of vehicles. As the aircraft pushed back from the gate workers walked with it, gathering nearby as it reached the taxi way. Some workers turned their pockets inside out, indicating to the negotiators they had no more to give. One baggage handler explained that he had not seen this kind of unity in years. " People around here have not had much to smile about lately, but realizing you do have power made me smile for the rest of the day. I think we are onto something.", he said.
One hour earlier a group of about 100 workers had escorted out another flight with company representatives on it. At both events managers had sought unsuccessfully to send workers away.
The following day, Monday, Northwest attempted to discipline several workers who they say had been at the ramp rally. When ground crews learned of this, over 100 of them gathered outside the site of the Company investigation to protest management's action. After several minutes the investigation was canceled.
Also on Monday, Northwest union stock clerks gathered at a "prayer meeting" to show unity. They later joined several dozen baggage handlers at Northwest Company Headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota to show their dissatisfaction with company contract demands.
Many workers reported they will not accept any contract which does not contain substantial improvements over the Company's last offer. " We will be looking to hook up with our fellow union members throughout the system and with the flight attendants so we can strengthen our fight." said one long time baggage handler.
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