|By Lynda Edwards, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 15, 2005 - It doesn't take a rocket scientist to snag a room at the Radisson Hotel City Center in July. What it does take is about 300 aviation mechanics being paid by Northwest Airlines as labor trouble brews.
AIAA, The American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics, whose 30,000 members include America's leading rocket scientists, filed a June 3 lawsuit against the Radisson. AIAA claims the Radisson contracted to reserve 290 rooms for the group's July conference.
But AIAA was bumped when Northwest Airlines Corp., the nation's fourth largest airline, booked the 307-room hotel for aviation mechanics who are undergoing training sessions in Radisson conference rooms. The Radisson room stampede began as Northwest and its unionized mechanics, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, hunkered down for a possible strike.
"Yes, I'm a manager but I can't tell you who I am," said a man shoo-ing trainees into a Radisson conference room Tuesday. He clamped his hand over the tag that had what looked like "Jim Cray" written across it. He said the men in his conference room are "being trained by Northwest but I can't tell you whether they are officially Northwest employees. No, I can't tell you what that means." What the union says it means is that Northwest is training replacement workers in case its own mechanics go on strike.
"Northwest did this behind our backs while they were negotiating with us, asking for a 24 percent pay reduction," said the union's national director, O.V. Delle-Femine.
Delle-Femine said the union had discovered Northwest training replacement workers in San Francisco, Kansas City and Dallas, as well as Tucson. Northwest is paying the Tucson trainees higher hourly wages than the starting pay for unionized workers.
"We've verified that Northwest gave them a $2,000 signing bonus, free hotel rooms and a $32 an hour wage," Delle-Femine said. "It takes union members five years work before they're earning $32 an hour." He said the union will file a federal lawsuit to prove that the training sessions show Northwest is not negotiating in good faith.
Northwest spokeswoman Jennifer Bagdade would not confirm whether the Tucson guests were to be replacement workers should Northwest mechanics strike.
She said via e-mail: "Because Northwest now has the highest labor costs in the airline industry, it is imperative that we reach a concessionary labor agreement with AMFA (the mechanics union) as soon as possible." While Northwest is training workers to maintain planes, the scientists who design airplanes and missiles find no room in the inn near the convention center.
The lawsuit by the aeronautics group against the Radisson at 181 W. Broadway states that the group reserved rooms for its July 7 to July 16 conference. Treasurer David Quackenbush said the group chose the Radisson because it's within walking distance of the Tucson Convention Center. Attendees could rush between breakout sessions at the hotel and lectures at the convention center, where thousands of research papers on weaponry, jet propulsion and space exploration will be displayed.
The complaint states that on May 24 Radisson vice president of operations E.M. Foster Jr. notified the aeronautics group that the Radisson would be leasing its rooms to Northwest. Foster blamed the group for not paying a $6,250 deposit, the complaint said.
"Our counsel told me the delay in paying the deposit is not material to the suit," Quackenbush said.
The aeronautics group tendered the deposit after being told it had lost the rooms. But the Radisson told the group to book rooms at the Doubletree Hotel Tucson at Reid Park at 445 S. Alvernon Way, a location the group says is too far from the convention center.
Radisson attorney Rick Rollman said: "I can only respond that the Radisson hoped to resolve the situation quickly with both parties satisfied." The room reservation duel makes Tucson the stage where a battered airline briefly trumps the high tech sector that Tucson has been feverishly courting. It's an irony Tucson Metropolitan Visitors & Convention Bureau CEO Jonathan Walker does not relish.
His agency was contacted by conference sponsor Raytheon Missile Systems and AIAA, the aeronautics group, in 2002 when the group was searching for an Arizona venue for its 2005 conference. Walker's team put together a proposal highlighting what Tucson could offer the scientists.
"It's not unusual for groups like AIAA to plan their conventions years in advance," Walker said. "Tucson courts high tech employers constantly. This is a great opportunity for Tucson to make a good impression. We want to see this work out." But the Radisson is swarming with mechanics wearing Northwest Airline name tags who say they will be training through August.
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
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