In The News
Midwest unions expose corporate strategy
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Striking back with details of the hidden players behind the effort to dismantle the Midwest Airlines unions, the flight attendants are distributing a flyer outlining the intentions of these “consultants” and their past record. It is available for download in the Take Action section of this website.
Meanwhile, a package of stories in the July Labor Press, delivered to some 55,000 households in the community, provides insights into how fuel prices are only a partial factor in the airline’s problems and how the merger of Delta and Northwest is actually influencing the effort to cut nearly in half Midwest’s workforce and weaken its main claim to fame. The fame stems from the service model and experienced personnel that Midwest is chopping in half.
Rallying behind the Midwest flight attendants, who started the year with more than 400 members, are its own 55,000-member union, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, known as AFA. The highly-regarded Midwest unit of the pilots belongs to ALPA, the Air Line Pilots Association.
Milwaukee’s labor council as well as national unions from both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Federation are also supporting the efforts of the Midwest workers to inform the public of the refusal of Midwest management to adjust their ultimatums. In fact, Midwest managers have little to do with offers on the table, as the flyer reveals in detail.
Midwest, meanwhile, has tried to distract the community and the media with details of the routes it will be dropping in September. It is certainly troubling news, affecting the plans of many travelers, but it had been obvious for weeks when Midwest said it was scratching all its MD-80s. These are the only planes that could fly the long distance direct flights to the West Coast and Florida, so it was no surprise that leisure routes were clearly the first to go as Midwest sought to protect, for now, it business travel largely to the East Coast.
As reported in the Labor Press stories, all the aviation consultants interviewed did agree on one thing:
Milwaukee had been played for a fool, proving more devoted to Midwest than management proved to be.
"People here think Midwest is a big deal,” said one consultant, citing Midwest’s reputation as a big corporate player with a Milwaukee hub and close connections with top enterprises, such as the Brewers and Miller.
“But it's barely a hair on the puppy" in terms of national size and influence.
Recalling Midwest's profitable days before 9/11, city residents and leaders did lead the fight against an AirTran takeover two years ago, fearing the loss of its hub and the death of the "Best Care in the Air" reputation. But when Midwest gave majority interest to TPG equity group with Northwest as a "passive" partner, "that was the end of any independent airline and the city didn't even notice," said another consultant.
Nor are TPG and Northwest (no longer a "passive" partner if it ever was) the biggest players in the game. That would be Delta, which in April announced a merger with Northwest and an insider strategy to reduce the nation's commercial fleets by 15% and consolidate services.
Its two-step seems to be reassuring cities that it won't change or diminish service, and then do exactly that. (Ask the leaders in Memphis.)
A few elected officials may sense what is going on. Sen. Herb Kohl, a noted businessman, has already told the Department of Justice that he has considerable skepticism that the Delta-Northwest merger provides any cost savings and fears its impact on Midwest, rural routes or real competition.
Another consultant noted that successful Southwest Airlines is heavily unionized, has a compatible interchangeable fleet and also anticipated the fuel spikes with bulk buying.
Though more accustomed to advising Wall Street than organized labor, "I actually hope the unions do fight this," this consultant said, pointing out the need for balance in airline competition even as the industry seems focused on merger after merger because of growth in fuel costs (which was actually anticipated in many quarters). "But they're really the only ones who will,” he said, talking about the unions. “Don't expect much from the public officials."
The pilots and flight attendants will not go quietly. No one is talking work stoppage, but the threat is there because the job issue has stirred everyone up.
The AFA has 9,000 unionized flight attendants at Northwest and doesn't want them vaporized in Delta's clearly non-union push toward the wage bottom. And AFA is also fighting Delta management to give that company's 15,000 attendants what they seem to want - a union.