Northwest Flight Attendants Can’t Strike

Northwest, SkyTeam

Back at the end of August, the District Court judge reviewing Northwest flight attendants’ right to strike put the decision on hold until he could gather more info.

Today, he finally issued a ruling saying that the flight attendants will not be allowed to strike at this time and the matter has to go back to the bankruptcy court for further proceedings. I’m not sure exactly what that means yet.

This all goes back to the interpretation of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) which binds airline employees as well as those that ride the rails. Now a little history.

Airlines and its employee unions/workgroups/etc come to agreement on a working contract. These contracts are for a set period of time, but they never expire. When the time period is up, they become amendable. If negotiations fail and mediation (National Mediation Board) is unsuccessful, both side enter a 30 day cooling off period. After that, they are entitled to self-help, which can include strikes.

This is fairly straightforward, but it entered a gray area when Northwest voided the flight attendants’ contract. See, the airline was given permission by the bankruptcy court to impose a contract that would dramatically reduce pay. As soon as they did that, the flight attendants argued that since they never agreed to this contract, the RLA didn’t apply. So they wanted to strike without going through all the hoops required in the RLA.

I’m not a legal scholar by any means, but I side with the flight attendants here. They are working under a contract that they never agreed to work under, and they should be permitted to seek self-help. Of course, my opinion sadly holds no legal value, so we’ll just have to see where this one goes. Appeals are flying as we speak.

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