NWA Fires 12 Flight Attendants in Sickout Investigation

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Published Thursday, March 9, 2000

NWA fires 12 flight attendants in sickout investigation

Tony Kennedy / Star Tribune

A dozen Northwest Airlines flight attendants have been fired in connection with an alleged New Year's sickout, and five more have resigned after being asked to submit to questions about their work absences during the period.

Northwest spokesman Jon Austin confirmed the dismissals and resignations Wednesday after a Twin Cities-based flight attendant was fired in a meeting with the company at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The flight attendant could not be reached for comment and Austin declined to comment on any of the firings.

Billie Davenport, president of Teamsters Local 2000, the union representing Northwest's flight attendants, said grievances will be filed to protest the firings. None of the sick calls were false, she said.

The individuals who lost their jobs also will become chips in ongoing contract negotiations between Northwest and Local 2000. Davenport said the union will bargain to get them back on the job.

"From what I can tell, they are being discharged because, purely, the company didn't believe them," Davenport said.

Union bargaining to return fired workers to their jobs is not without precedent at Northwest. In 1998, the International Association of Machinists won back jobs for six of eight mechanics who were fired during an unofficial work slowdown. The slowdown, like the alleged sickout, occurred during a contract dispute.

Davenport said Northwest fired the flight attendants beginning last month for alleged violations of company rules about honesty and cooperation. As suspects in the company's sickout investigation, the flight attendants produced doctors' notes to explain their absences, but Northwest apparently found problems with the notes or conflicts in what the attendants told company investigators, Davenport said.

Flight attendants from Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu were among those fired.

Northwest has alleged in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in St. Paul that Local 2000 and 21 individuals involved in the union incited the alleged sickout to gain illegal leverage in contract negotiations. The company testified that a shortage of cabin crews over New Year's prompted 300 flight cancellations.

"Not one flight attendant has said the union encouraged them to call in sick or told them to call in sick. This had nothing to do with anything with the union," Davenport said.

The union has argued that the high number of sick calls over New Year's was because of a flu outbreak and fears of flying during the Y2K rollover. The suit is on hold pending ongoing contract negotiations between Northwest and the flight attendants.

If a sickout is proved, it would be a violation of the Railway Labor Act, the federal law governing labor relations in the rail and airline industries. Under the act, work groups can't engage in job actions against employers without permission from the National Mediation Board.

Contract talks between Northwest and the flight attendants began Sept. 3, 1996. The two sides reached tentative agreement on a five-year deal last June, but the rank-and-file of Local 2000 soundly rejected it. Talks resumed this year and are proceeding under the direction of a federal mediator.

-- viewer (justp@ssing.by), March 11, 2000

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