Coffee, Tea...or HAVOC?

Northwest flight attendants gear up for a new strike formula--minimum cost, maximum headache

Austin would not comment on Northwest's strategy in the event the flight attendants implement a HAVOC campaign. He says speculation on that score is premature until the next round of contract negotiations, slated to begin June 7, is completed. Besides, he notes, before any job action can be taken, the union must obtain a release from the National Mediation Board, a three-member panel appointed by the President that is notoriously reluctant to allow strikes.

Predicting the outcomes of airline labor struggles is tricky business. According to John Remington, a professor of industrial relations at the University of Minnesota, most experts expected NWA to settle with the pilots before that union went out on a costly 15-day strike last fall--and, in the end, won much of what it had asked for. "That sent a signal to the other unions that Northwest will pay if they are willing to stick it out," Remington says. And since the flight attendants can't shut down the airline's operation the way pilots or mechanics can, he says, targeted strikes are the logical strategy for them.

Mike Wohnoutka

Back at the Richfield ballpark, Carrie Holsapple is optimistic that, strike or no strike, the union's actions will eventually produce something better than her current salary. As a low-flying NWA passenger jet rumbles overhead, Holsapple glances skyward. "Well, well, speak of the devil," she says with a sly smile. Asked what the flying public should expect if the next round of negotiations fails, she declines to make predictions. But consider the history, she says: "If you're a smart business traveler, you're not going to plan on flying Northwest when they're in the middle of a labor dispute."

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