MINNEAPOLIS -- Northwest Airlines mechanics on Wednesday raised safety concerns about being forced to work 12- to 16-hour shifts to complete necessary aircraft maintenance.
Steve MacFarlane, president of Local 33 of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, said the mandatory overtime comes within the letter of the law but has caused an increase in fatigue-related incidents.
"Over the last month they have increased the occurrence of mandatory overtime. Recently they have done it back-to-back, the same mechanic working as many as nine days in a row, 12- to 16-hour days," MacFarlane said.
"One mechanic had to be hospitalized after a fatigue-related accident Sunday, two were involved in near-accidents in traffic, and yet another mechanic almost poked through a plane's fuselage with a tool," he said.
"The safety of the public and our members are at greater risk when mechanics are overworked to this extent," MacFarlane said.
Shop representatives who brought their concerns to the company were told the overtime is permissible under the contract and does not violate Federal Aviation Administration regulations, he said.
"That is true," MacFarlane said. "The duty time for a mechanic is considerably more liberal than for a flight crew. All they have to do is give you four days off in a 30-day period."
However, MacFarlane said Northwest has not hired enough mechanics to meet the increasing volume of air traffic.
"Northwest relies on us to work heavy overtime hours on a regular basis. At the busiest times of year, such as now, we can't meet the demand even with overtime. To add insult to injury, Northwest blames us for flight delays," MacFarlane said.
Northwest spokesman Jon Austin said any legitimate safety concerns regarding the Eagan-based carrier's operations should be brought to management directly or to the FAA, which regulates airline operations.
"Instead, Mr. MacFarlane seems to be conducting a campaign in the media to attack Northwest and to divert attention from the fact that his members are currently working less overtime than normal, not more as he implies," Austin said.
The exchange came as AMFA and Northwest prepared further arguments for U.S. District Judge David Doty on whether he should reopen a hearing to consider sanctions against the union. Those arguments are due Monday.
Northwest has accused mechanics of causing flight delays and cancellations by staging a work slowdown and refusing voluntary overtime during the busy year-end holiday period.
The judge issued a preliminary injunction Dec. 4 prohibiting AMFA from engaging in a work slowdown in violation of the Railway Labor Act, which governs all labor negotiations in the airline industry.
Under the law, unions can't engage in strikes or other job actions without permission from the National Mediation Board. The board would have to declare negotiations at an impasse to trigger a 30-day cooling off period before the union could strike.
The airline's 9,500 mechanics, cleaners and custodians have been seeking a new contract for about four years. The National Mediation Board recessed talks indefinitely in early November, indicating the union had not presented a serious wage proposal.
On the Net:
AMFA Local 33: http://www.amfa33.org
Northwest Airlines: http://www.nwa.com
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