Northwest flouts council effort to save jobs

Storm warnings be damned — Northwest Airlines et al. are sticking to departure plans they worked out for a couple hundred airport workers. The one-way ticket for these workers — wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers and skycaps — comes in the form of layoffs after Northwest and its corporate partners replaced one contractor, Argenbright Security Services, with another this week. The move effectively terminated the Argenbright workers. The blow hit especially hard because the Argenbright employees were on the verge of winning a hard-fought campaign for union representation.

The workers thought they had won a last-minute reprieve via the Los Angeles City Council, but those hopes have fizzled, for the moment, as Northwest and partners are disputing the legality of the council’s action.

Just last Friday, the City Council approved a motion aimed at providing protection to the workers under the city‘s worker-retention ordinance. The ordinance gives employees of city contractors the first crack at jobs when a new contractor takes over. But the ordinance applies only to city contracts entered into after the council passed it in 1995. Northwest’s 40-year master lease, signed in 1985, predates the ordinance.

Last week‘s council action, led by members Jackie Goldberg and Ruth Galanter, sought to hold Northwest to the regulations through the airline’s new operating permits, which were approved June 20. Labor attorneys insist that these modifications should bring the airline under the ordinance.

Unhappy workers, along with union activists from Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union, made their displeasure known last week during a one-hour lunchtime protest at Terminal 2 that brought out a crowd 200 strong. Telegraphing at least one punch, SEIU Local president Mike Garcia warned, “We‘re going to stop the Democratic Convention flow that comes through here if we have to.”

Following the rally, workers staged a sit-in, blocking a stairway and escalator. Ten were peacefully arrested and cited for failure to disperse; one was charged with resisting arrest.

Northwest seemed unperturbed by the end-of-week events. An overnight crew, one that had worked for Argenbright, was told this weekend that it would not be needed, said a union spokesperson. Another former Argenbright crew, reporting for the next day shift, was told the same thing. The new contractor, Aviation Safeguards, was apparently determined to operate with new employees.

As for Northwest, spokesman Doug Killian shrugged the matter off as “a dispute between unions — not something that affects our operations.” The change of contractors, he said, was made for “good economic reasons.” And Northwest station manager Joe Conlon asserted that “We have a disagreement with the ordinance.”

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