Letter from an Airlines Veteran

I was a member of the Machinists union (IAM) from 1976-2003. In April 1989 I was walking an Eastern Airline picket line proudly holding up our “Eastern Airlines on Strike” sign. An individual walked up to me and identified himself as an ex-PATCO employee. He asked me why he should honor our picket lines since the AFL-CIO and IAM refused to honor their lines? The only answer that I was able to give him was that I did not support the AFL-CIO or the IAM position in this matter.

At that time, the IAM was a good union. The mechanics, pilots, flight attendants and ramp service workers struck Eastern because Eastern CEO Frank Lorenzo said that he was going to use the bankruptcy laws to break all the unions.

In 1991 Eastern Airlines liquidated under chapter 7, the following day our strike was called off. District 100 President Charlie Bryan not only lost his job, he lost his career within the IAM because he dared to call a strike that the International IAM did not want. But Frank Lorenzo was run out of the airline business and was not able to get financing support to open a candy store at a terminal!

In 1990-1992 the IAM became a bad union by accepting concessionary contracts that protected our jobs, but reduced our standard of living by accepting two-tiered agreements; telling us we can renegotiate them back when times get better.

Times did not get better. In 1994, the IAM negotiated an agreement that allowed the farming out of 20 percent of our work and reduced our pay by 25 percent to buy Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) stock for a no lay-off to the street guarantee until 2006. That no-layoff guarantee was negotiated away in 2002. I campaigned and voted against this ESOP having been previously burned on an IAM/Eastern ESOP.

I was a delegate to the 1996 Grand Lodge Convention. At that convention Local Lodge 1781 introduced a resolution asking that the IAM take a zero tolerance toward the outsourcing of IAM jobs. The Grand Lodge leadership amended the resolution to read the IAM will discourage the practice of outsourcing when it is detrimental to the IAM.

On August 20, the IAM refused to support the Northwest Airlines mechanics’ strike. In my 27 years with the IAM I never thought I would be ashamed of being a member of this organization.

Jay Gould, a railroad executive in the 1880s to the 1890s made the following quote: "I can pay one half the working class to kill the other half" That statement holds true today not only is management fighting labor, but labor is also fighting labor.

I give my respect and admiration to the Northwest Airlines Mechanics. They must win this strike. Not are only our livelihoods in jeopardy, but so is the safety of aviation. I fear that the public will not appreciate the job that we do until they pull a red tail from a smoking hole in the ground.