Q&A: Russ Callison 

Union representative for Northwest Airlines flight attendants

It looks like Northwest Airlines might be getting back off the ground. All three unions representing its employees -- pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics -- and the airline have reached tentative agreements in their contracts, but it seems there will be pay cuts all around.

The flight attendants reached a tentative agreement Wednesday, March 1st, after threatening to strike when Northwest announced it would be cutting American jobs and replacing them with foreign nationals on flights to Asia, the Pacific, and India. There are 518 Northwest flight attendants working out of Memphis.

Russ Callison, a representative for the Professional Flight Attendants Association, hasn't seen the contract yet, but he'll be voting on it later this week in Minneapolis. He says there won't be any outsourcing, but attendants will definitely be taking a pay cut. If union officials approve the contract, all 9,000 Northwest flight attendants will then have 30 days to vote on it.

-- by Bianca Phillips

What sorts of things will the contract cover?

It covers everything, like retirement benefits, pay, sick leave, work rules, vacations, and on-the-job injuries. We're really concerned in Memphis about the short-crew pay. That's when attendants get paid a little extra when we're short-staffed.

Is the Memphis hub short-staffed?

We still have people on furlough here, and they won't bring them back. I think they're waiting to see if we're going to come out of bankruptcy. We have 518 [flight attendants in Memphis] now. I'd guess we need about 618.

Are all flight attendants union members?

Minneapolis is the base for the whole airline, and under Minnesota state law, you have to be a member of the union. Tennessee is not that way. If we were based out of Tennessee, you'd have a choice.

What relationship do the unions have with Northwest?

Even in bankruptcy, instead of trying to get along with us, they're trying all different types of discipline. It's very frustrating. They are stricter in their rules and regulations. There are a lot more investigations on flight attendants. They're putting pressure on areas such as attendance and things that are beyond the control of the flight attendant.

If your employees are happy, your customers are happy. But Northwest has never had that philosophy. Hopefully, they'll get that philosophy out of this bankruptcy.

What was with the outsourcing threat?

Northwest wanted 75 percent of Asia flying, 75 percent of Pacific flying, and 100 percent of India flying to go to foreign nationals. That would have put 5,000 of our members out of work. We were opposed to that.

In reality, I think most of that was a smokescreen for wanting to get rid of provisions in our contract that protect us in a merger or an acquisition by another airline. It protects our jobs and our seniority, and the other company would have to sign an agreement that they would uphold our contract. That's my theory.

Do flight attendants seem scared right now?

Yes, they do. No one's seen this contract yet, so they don't know what to expect.


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