Saturday, August 20, 2005

Aircraft mechanics Kurt Bennett, left, and Roger Livingston picketed and informed departing passengers yesterday about the Northwest Airlines aircraft mechanics strike, which took effect at 6 last night. Northwest hopes the strike will not delay flights.

Strike will not
cause immediate
delays in city

Replacements take over at
Northwest, but strikers say
the inexperience will show

Northwest Airlines mechanics in Honolulu followed their mainland counterparts out on strike last night, picketing against threatened pay cuts and layoffs and asking passengers to choose another carrier.

Northwest, which has an average of 10 daily flights to and from Honolulu Airport, employs 22 members of the Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association in the islands.

As soon as they walked out at 6:01 p.m., replacements stepped in -- ensuring that at least in the short term, there would be no flight delays.

Meanwhile, passengers leaving for and arriving from the mainland last night appeared undeterred by the picket lines though curious about the strike.

Dale Emery, who was returning to Indiana after a week in the islands, said he sympathized with the mechanics but also understood why the airline would want to cut expenses.

"I don't know how any of these airlines can afford it, what with fuel costs and all," he said. "These guys got to make their money."

Soon after the strike started, Northwest flights arrived from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Later in the evening, flights departed for Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Anchorage, Alaska.

Northwest's flight schedule to Honolulu Airport, which varies according to season, also includes nonstop service to and from Tokyo, Seattle and Detroit.

Workers formed picket lines at two domestic departure gates and one domestic arrival gate last night and were planning pickets at international gates this morning. They handed out fliers to passengers and asked for their support.

"We want them not to fly on this airline," said Doug Hornal, a mechanic and strike coordinator who has been with Northwest for 24 years, "but our objective is information sharing, more than anything else."

Northwest has 584 employees based at Honolulu Airport.

Kurt Ebenhoch, a Northwest spokesman on the mainland, said the carrier is relying on third-party vendors to provide replacements.

The strike's effect on Hawaii, then, depends on whether Northwest's contingency plan allows the airline to continue operating smoothly, said Frank Haas, Honolulu Airport's director of tourism marketing.

"Obviously, they are going to try to run their schedule, and if they do that, there won't be any impact," he said. If there is an effect on operations, airlines typically book passengers with other airlines.

And because carriers recently have increased capacity to Honolulu, Haas said, other carriers should be able to absorb any Northwest passengers.

"We don't know for sure, but it doesn't look like a cause for alarm," he said.

But the striking mechanics say the replacements should cause concern for passengers, given that they usually have less experience, especially with large airplanes.

"It's a very complex machine ... and they will break," said William Styer, a 26-year veteran of Northwest. "The problems will surface when the inexperienced" try to fix them.

Hornal added that the Honolulu mechanics "have a couple hundred years of seniority" combined. "It's a safety thing," he said.

Locally, union member Mark DeRaad said, mechanics make between $36 and $38 an hour. The airline is asking for a 25 percent pay cut and wants to lay off about 2,500 mechanics.

It is unclear how the layoffs would affect Honolulu.

The picket lines will continue in the mornings and evenings at Honolulu Airport for at least the next 10 days. After that, Hornal said, mechanics will likely only form strike lines in the morning.

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