Northwest appeals decision allowing flight attendants to strike

Northwest planes are lined up at their gates.
Northwest planes are lined up at their gates at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Craig Lassig/AFP/Getty Images

Northwest landed a hearing date for its appeal that leaves just hours to spare. A federal district court judge will hear the airline's appeal on Aug. 25, the same day flight attendants say they could begin intermittent walkouts. The union says it could start striking scattered flights starting at 9:01 p.m. on that Friday night.

Attorneys for Northwest did not return calls to discuss the appeal. Some legal experts say Judge Allan Gropper's 22-page decision will be hard for them to overcome.

It was anything but a shoot-from-the-hip decision by the judge.

"It was anything but a shoot-from-the-hip decision by the judge," says David LeMay, a New York bankruptcy attorney who represents a large financial institution in the Northwest case.

LeMay says Judge Gropper went into careful detail in explaining why federal judges cannot block a job action in these circumstances.

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Gropper's main conclusion is that a federal law called the Norris LaGuardia Act limits the judge's authority, and overrides the airline's contention that a strike could be fatal.

"I think it's a well-thought out and well-reasoned and carefully worked through decision," says LeMay. "If I had to be the lawyer for the airline or the lawyer for the union -- at least on this particular issue going up on appeal -- I'd rather be the lawyer for the union."

But LeMay says Gropper's opinion also contained vague warnings to the flight attendants. LeMay says even if the judge can't block a strike, he may be able to levy financial or other penalties on the union once it begins.

An attorney for the union, Ed Gilmartin, says flight attendants have no interest in seeing a strike cripple the airline. He expects Northwest to push its case in court.

"They'll probably pursue continued litigation on this issue, which is their right," Gilmartin says. "But I think it would be for everyone's interest, including their passengers -- the traveling public -- to just get a deal, and let's resolve this."

Northwest says it must achieve $195 million a year in cost savings; flight attendants say it's up to the airline to come to them with a better offer. As yet, no talks have been scheduled.