Airline union may e-mail strike warnings

August 22, 2006|By MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

DETROIT -- The flight attendants union at Northwest Airlines Inc. plans to notify travelers by e-mail before it stages surprise walkouts, which are possible as early as its strike deadline Friday night.

But don't expect much notice.

The Association of Flight Attendants has asked travelers to sign up on its Web site,, to receive e-mail alerts about walkouts.

The notice could be as much as a couple of hours if the union plans a full-scale walkout or as short as 20 minutes - after passengers are at the airport - if the union plans to strike one flight, AFA spokesman Ricky Thornton said yesterday.

Northwest declined to comment on the union's move.

The union's goal in a strike is to keep the airline guessing, so there could be cases in which it sends out no e-mail before a walkout, or it could send an e-mail about a strike with no walkout taking place.

"We won't be completely tilting our hand," Thornton said.

The union said on its Web site: "We will endeavor to provide as much notice as possible but cannot guarantee that the notice will prevent all disruptions to your travel plans."

It then asks passengers for their names, e-mail addresses and departure airports.

"It's an attempt to win the public's support while you're doing something that the public would be very much inconvenienced by," said Gary N. Chaison, professor of management at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

Flight attendants at Northwest are fighting contract terms the airline imposed late last month, cutting wages 21 percent and compensation by as much as 40 percent, the union says.

Northwest, which is restructuring under Chapter 11 and has negotiated concessions with other unions, said it plans to continue to operate flights and has a "range of contingency options."

Though both sides say they're available for talks, none have occurred since mid-July.

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