To hear the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) tell the tale, Northwest Airlines is experiencing significant labor shortages, and as a result, the airline has been forced to cancel flights over the last four days — approximately 1 in every 8 flights are being canceled; 550 flights and counting.
To hear Northwest tell the story, the cancellations are result of weather problems over the last month resulting in too many pilots and planes being in the wrong place at the wrong time and a higher than normal rate of pilot absenteeism.
Industry insiders believe the issues really boil down to labor/management struggles between Northwest and the pilot’s union. According to the published reports, in the last week the pilot’s union passed a no confidence vote against management because of pilot shortages stating that these shortages will have a costly impact on “flying, revenue, and passenger good will.”
This month in particular has seen an exacerbation of the canceled flights across the industry, owing to computer glitches, human error, and severe thunderstorms. However, Northwest is experiencing cancellations at a far greater rate than its competitors – on Monday, Northwest canceled approximately 11% of flights, while competitor airlines canceled a little more than 2% on average. ALPA says that the cancellations are due to work rules the airline has won that essentially forces crews to all the on duty flight hours allowable under federal regulations. Under the new agreement, the monthly maximum flight hours pilots are allowed to fly increased by 10 hours a month to a maximum of 90 hours. FAA regulations prohibit flying more than 100 hours monthly. The union asserts that the work rules do not allow for any disruption that may occur in the daily operations of the airline.
When Northwest emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year, the concessions from the unions included no pay increases themselves – even decreases – higher benefits costs and layoffs, resulting in savings of over $350 Million, meanwhile CEO compensation approved during bankruptcy provided for over $26 Million in stock and options at a time when competitor airlines, also emerging from bankruptcy, provided pay increases. The Northeast Agreement provides for compensation in the form of company performance incentives instead. At the time Northwest came out of bankruptcy, the Wall Street Journal noted the ill will in the airline’s labor/management relations at the airline, calling it “particularly acrimonious.”
While the airline has not publicly accused the union of engaging in a collective action, the ALPA hotline, according to CNN, is reported as telling pilots to “Fly safe. Fly the contract. Don’t fly sick. Don’t fly fatigued. Don’t fly hungry.”
The airline has a history of troubled labor relations, including pilots strikes and utilizing replacement workers to break a strike shortly before entering bankruptcy protection.
Bisi Onile-Ere, “Michigan’s largest air carrier experiencing turbulence”, URL: http://abclocal.go.com/wjrt/story?section=local&id=5425914
Scott McCartney “Summer Flying Turns Ugly” URL: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118282667398448067.html
Chris Isidore, “Northwest cancellations spike” URL: http://money.cnn.com/2007/06/26/news/companies/northwest/?postversion=2007062707
Muskegon Chronicle, “Northwest Airlines says pilot sick calls key in flight delays,” URL: http://www.mlive.com/news/chronicle/index.ssf?/base/news-6/1182953733164460.xml&coll=8
Susan Carey, “Northwest Air, Out of Chapter 11,
Aims to Mollify Customers, Labor” URL: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118056646714919216.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
Associated Press, “Northwest blames pilot sick calls for delays,” URL: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-070627northwest,0,6275429.story?coll=chi-business-hed