Northwest Mechanic Strike Over? AMFA Too?
written & posted 10/06
by Carl Finamore
The Aircraft Mechanic Fraternal Association (AMFA) and
(NWA) reached a tentative agreement
on October 9, 2006, that, if approved by the membership,
ends the 14-month strike.
The deal includes NWA withdrawing all protests against
strikers receiving unemployment benefits; offering
vacation accrual with a maximum 10 weeks severance pay
for resignations or, as an alternative for those
strikers who elect to remain with the company with 2-
year recall rights, vacation accrual with up to 5 weeks
Since NWA shut the doors of its
facility and contracted out janitorial and cabin
cleaning jobs, few expect many of the 4400 original
strikers to be recalled.
All 800 mechanics who crossed picket lines, mostly AMFA
members, will remain working and cannot be displaced by
strikers according to the tentative agreement.
It is a tragic end to a dismal chapter of failed AMFA
leadership and strategy.
Most unions considered the strike ill conceived from the
AMFA had no strike fund and, reflecting its separatist
philosophy of mechanics acting alone, went on strike
while the Pilots, Flight Attendants and Machinists’
Union were still negotiating under pressures of
bankruptcy court proceedings.
AMFA bolted ahead of all the other unions,
characteristic of their often-stated mantra that
"strength in numbers doesn’t necessarily mean strength."
This was the wisdom offered by AMFA Assistant National
Director Steve MacFarlane on the eve of the August 2005
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Underestimating solidarity with other unions on the
property was only one of AMFA’s strategic mistakes.
Extremely damaging to unity with other unions was AMFA’s
negotiating proposal that NWA take more concessions from
IAM members and less from AMFA members.
As reported by Robert Roach Jr., IAMAW General Vice-
President Transportation: "AMFA, as an institution, has
proposed and is actively advocating, that demand $150,000,000 more [from IAM members] in
concessions than the $107,000,000 Northwest has
requested from our membership."
While AMFA supporters dismiss these claims as slander,
most ‘unskilled’ airline workers who have been the
target of AMFA’s scorn since their formation in 1962,
are not at all surprised by AMFA’s breach of solidarity
at NWA during the 2005 summer contract negotiations.
In fact, this breakdown in solidarity is exactly what
occurred only a few months earlier in an AMFA settlement
with that directly led to 550 IAM jobs
being contracted out.
As a result of complex legal proceedings between AMFA
and the IAM over the jobs in question, AMFA negotiators
demanded and received from UAL financial ‘credits’ for
this IAM job loss; thus increasing the hardship on
fellow workers, IAM members, but reducing concessions of
The whole AMFA experience has been a bitter, devastating
blow to airline workers. It has led to division and
defeat by an organization that claimed to be more
militant and democratic than established unions but was
None of AMFA’s major claims have stood up; they are
neither more democratic nor more militant than
traditional unions they seek to replace.
AMFA suffers from the same political weaknesses as other
unions only compounded by active attempts to split
unions and separate ‘skilled’workers from other employee
Less than 3 years ago when AMFA won an election to
represent 9000 UAL mechanics, AMFA’s major campaign
slogan was that they would never negotiate concessions.
They claimed to always have rank and file observers at
They claimed to be the most democratic.
None of these claims have stood up; during NWA
concession bargaining for example, AMFA members were
never given an opportunity to vote on the ‘Final and
Best Offer’ by NWA before the strike was called in
August 2005 and ‘rank and file observers’ were barred
from the recent negotiations with NWA on the tentative
Only 10 years ago, AMFA’s divisive sales pitch attracted
a measly 439 total members, picking up steam only during
recent years of devastating rounds of airline concession
bargaining. After only a few short years with a
significant membership, their numbers have dwindled, the
organization is in crisis and the whole project can be
declared a miserable failure.
Instead of division into smaller,craft unions, we need
to confront employers with unity. ‘One Airline, One
Union’ is the answer to AMFA’s retrograde separatism.
Perhaps some misled radicals are infatuated with AMFA’s
talk of more militancy and democracy. Most airline
workers are not.
AMFA’s program is nothing more than elitism starkly and
tragically revealed in the failed ‘go-it-alone’ strike
strategy at NWA that in the end proved to be just as
arrogant as it was misguided.
Not surprisingly, lessons are being drawn by AMFA
mechanics themselves who are abandoning the sinking ship
in droves. There is an active AMFA decertification drive
at the Maintenance Base,
the only remaining viable AMFA unit in the country.
AMFA leaders are feeling the heat. Several months ago in
an election, 12,000 NWA Flight Attendants, ousted their
AMFA-originated union in favor of the Association of
Flight Attendants, AFA-CWA, AFL-CIO.
There are other signs of internal problems. AMFA
recently fired its founding national attorneys, moved
its national headquarters thousands of miles away from
where its aging National Director resides, declared
itself to be in major debt and announced,in a huge
reversal of direction, that it is openly investigating
affiliations and mergers with the AFL-CIO.
The fundamental tenets of AMFA have been discredited.
Sadly, lessons of unity and solidarity had to be
relearned at the cost of thousands of jobs and disrupted