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This Week From Washington & Beyond
For Friday, September 04, 1998

All The News Fit To Print

*********************************************************** Clinton won’t intervene with Northwest strike – for now

MINNEAPOLIS -- With Labor Day approaching, President Clinton yesterday showed no willingness to stop the pilots strike at Northwest Airlines.

"He feels the best way to approach this is to keep the pressure on the parties to reach a settlement, and that is what we intend to do," said a White House spokesperson.

The White House announcement, which was welcomed by the Northwest Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), arrived the same day that Northwest and its regional affiliates tangled with the U.S. Department of Transportation over a directive to resume flying during the strike.

Meanwhile, Northwest decided to pull ads that depicted its pilots as unreasonable. The decision comes on the eve of exploratory talks on Saturday in Chicago.

Northwest also announced a major promotion for Mickey Foret, an executive feared by many employees for his past association with airline union buster Frank Lorenzo.

Under the Railway Labor Act, the president has authority to halt an airline strike by naming a presidential emergency board, which would study the dispute and recommend a settlement.

"The president has used the emergency board 12 times since he has been in office, many times for strikes with much less far-reaching implications," Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson said. "The question of intervention is not a matter of 'if.' It's always a matter of 'when.' And I would argue that the when is now."

The governors of North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Iowa and Tennessee have asked for intervention. Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin has not.

About 1,200 Northwest pilots packed a meeting hall Thursday at the Thunderbird Hotel in Bloomington, where union leaders sorted through contract issues and accused management of inducing the strike. Pilots and their spouses also received encouragement from national ALPA figure Duane Woerth, who made fun of Northwest executives, and from Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., who exalted labor unions.

At the half-day session, ALPA's largest local council unanimously passed a resolution of support for the union's negotiators, its top three officers and the 17 elected representatives who voted to strike. ALPA chief negotiator Steve Wilson, who received a standing ovation, gave a detailed presentation of the pay dispute and explained why the company and union are at odds over regional jets.

Wilson said the pilots contract proposal would barely affect Northwest's finances: He estimated the proposal would increase the airline's overall costs by less than 1.7 percent by the end of 2001. However, all other union employees at Northwest also are in line for raises. Omodt claims Northwest forced a strike by pilots to spread pain to the other unions and inhibit their demands.

Less than a mile from where the pilots gathered, leaders of the machinists' union on Thursday hosted an informational meeting at VFW Post 1296. Several thousand laid-off workers who attended were told how to file unemployment compensation claims. According to the forms, the maximum weekly benefit is $386. On Wednesday, the airline laid off more than 27,500 employees.

ALPA accepts NMB’s invitation to meet

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- The union representing Northwest Airlines pilots has accepted the National Mediation Board's invitation to meet Saturday in Chicago for an exploratory meeting to determine whether a resumption of further talks would be productive at this time.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Northwest's 6,100 pilots, called management's announcement to lay off 27,500 other airline employees a needless escalation of its strategy of inflicting pain on innocent victims.

"The Northwest pilots are on strike, but this is not a pilot strike. This strike was deliberately induced by Northwest management. This is a management strike," said Capt. Steven Zoller, chairman of the Northwest pilots' Master Executive Council, a unit of the Air Line Pilots Association.

"It is unfortunate that this strike, forced by Northwest management's refusal to negotiate, is affecting not only the traveling public, and not only the pilots at Northwest, but also our fellow workers at the airline," Zoller said. "However, if you look at the pattern of management's behavior, it becomes abundantly clear that the layoffs now being announced are simply the next step in a carefully contrived plan by management to inflict pain on everyone -- the traveling public, the pilots, and indeed, all Northwest workers. Their goal is to pressure Northwest employees into lowering expectations that they will receive a fair share of Northwest's current prosperity made possible by our earlier sacrifices. Their method is to inflict pain on the very same workers who saved Northwest in 1993."

The Air Line Pilots Association, International was chartered by the AFL-CIO in 1931 and represents 50,000 airline pilots at 50 airlines in the U.S. and Canada.

Air Canada strike remains a standoff

TORONTO -- In Canada, Air Canada and its 2,100 striking pilots remained at a standoff Thursday as the Montreal airline sent layoff notices to about 11,000 unionized employees.

The carrier and its pilots' union failed Tuesday night to reach a contract settlement on pay increases.

The layoff notices, which are effective Saturday, affect nearly half the carrier's work force. Separately, Cara Operations Ltd., a Toronto food-service company that provides catering for airlines, said 1,000 of its workers will be laid off or placed on paid holiday as a result of the Air Canada strike.

U.S. rail traffic slow during August

Washington -U.S. railroad reported a small gain in freight traffic during August while Canadian railroads reported mixed results, with intermodal traffic up and carload freight down, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported today.

Carload freight totaled 1,438,228 cars on U.S. railroads during the four weeks that ended August 29, up 1.8% from the comparable four weeks last year. Intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload figures, totaled 696,376 on U.S. railroads, up 0.4% from August 1997.

Canadian railroads originated 193,505 carloads during August, down 10.9% from last year. But intermodal volume in Canada rose 5.0% to 105,099 trailers and containers during August.

Among the major commodity categories, coal was up 3.5% for August, motor vehicles and equipment was up 13.0%, owing both to higher sales by some manufacturers and General Motors plants working overtime to make up for production losses during the recent auto strike, metallic minerals and products were up 6.7%, while chemicals were down 2.4% and forest products were off 5.1%."

Grain traffic was off 1.0% for the month and is down 4.4% for the year on U.S. railroads, due primarily to depressed world grain prices that have caused agribusinesses to store large volumes of grain.

Canadian carloadings for August and the year-to-date are down 10.9% and 3.4%, respectively, from an extremely strong 1997 level, and this year's volume is almost identical to the two-year-ago level of 1996." Grain traffic was off 34.7% for the month in Canada.

For the first 34 weeks of 1998, the AAR reported the following cumulative totals on U.S. railroads: 11,847,034 carloads, up 1.9% from last year; 5,696,329 trailers and containers, up 0.7%; and total volume of 895.9 billion ton-miles, up 1.4% from 1997's first 34 weeks.

For the first 34 weeks of 1998, Canadian railroads reported volume of 1,748,835 carloads, down 3.4% from last year, and 876,337 trailers and containers, 4.9% ahead of 1997's first 34 weeks.

People return to homes in Kansas after derailment

HAZELTON, Kan. -- Most of the 350 people evacuated after a freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in rural Kansas have returned to their homes, and the fire that raged for hours is out. The train had been headed from Chicago to Los Angeles when it went off the tracks yesterday morning near the Harper-Barber county line.

Barrels of nitric acid, sodium hydroxide and other hazardous chemicals spilled, forcing the evacuation of all 200 residents of Hazleton, Kansas. A National Guard helicopter called out to fight the fire on three of the six derailed Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway freight cars has left the scene. Clean-up operations concluded at about 2 a.m. About 20 residents within a 3-mile radius stayed with family members overnight.

Amtrak adds capacity for Labor Day; will home Northwest tickets

WASHINGTON -- Amtrak will honor tickets from passengers whose flights were canceled by the Northwest Airlines Corp. (NWAC) and Air Canada pilots' strikes.

In a press release Thursday, Amtrak said it added about 300 seats daily along its route between Minneapolis and Chicago. The company will add about 2,500 seats to its trains in the Northeast corridor through Labor Day and will have additional trains on standby. The company said ridership between Chicago and Minneapolis has increased dramatically since the strike.

The national railroad company said ridership in this fiscal year has increased more than 6% from a year ago and it expects passenger revenue will top $1 billion this fiscal year.

Strange rail car under investigation

EAGLE PASS, Texas -- An empty rail car painted with graffiti and a mysterious routing between Mexico and the United States are part of an investigation by U.S. Customs Special Agents and Union Pacific Railroad police. The investigation began yesterday when Customs Inspectors and a Canine Enforcement Team were performing inspections at the rail yard here on a train with mostly loaded cars inbound from Mexico.

The particular rail car was listed on Union Pacific's manifest as entering the United States empty. Canine "Harry" along with his human enforcement partner performed an examination of the cars. When they came to the front area of the support structure of the hopper car, "Harry" alerted aggressively to the scent of narcotics on the car.

Customs Inspectors inspected the car further. They found a concealed portal into the I-beam structure along the exterior of the rail car. Removal of the panel revealed bundles of marihuana. Continuing the inspection of the rail car, Inspectors found three additional portals concealed under bondo and paint. The exterior of the areas in which the portals had been cut had been further concealed with gang-style graffiti spray painted over the primer area. The 324 bundles of marihuana retrieved from the four compartments weigh 1,330 pounds. The street value of the marihuana is over $1 million.

The hopper car's routing into the U.S., to Mexico, and back into the U.S. is a matter under investigation. Anyone with information regarding the possible smuggling of the marihuana by rail is encouraged to contact the U.S. Customs Service at a toll free no. 1-800-BE ALERT or the Office of Investigations at 830- 773-7877. Report Drug Smuggling to 1-800-BE-ALERT

Pennsylvania Gov. announces $7.7 million grants for rail

HARRISBURG, Penn.-- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge announced that $7.7 million in state grants will help finance 46 rail freight improvement projects expected to spur the creation of more than 3,400 new jobs.

"Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation -- the expanded rail freight providers in Pennsylvania -- are committed to making major investments in the state and upgrading service to their customers," Gov. Ridge said. "Their improvements should lead to increased demands on our short-line and regional railroads.

"These grants will be used for infrastructure improvements, ensuring railroads will play a key role in Pennsylvania's growing economy by creating jobs."

Pennsylvania leads the nation with 70 operating railroads. Many Pennsylvania shippers, including coal, chemicals and lumber, are dependent on a rail network to move their commodities. The state has 5,600 miles of rail track, ranking it fifth in track mileage in the United States.

CAW expected to ratify contract

WINNIPEG, Canada -- The Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW), representing 6,500 employees at the Canadian National Railway Co. (CNR), is expected to complete its ratification vote today in Vancouver, British Columbia, with results of the outcome anticipated soon, according to union officials.

Abe Rosner of the CAW was not certain as to exactly when the final tally would be known. Membership ratification meetings began Aug 27 in Toronto.

If the deal is approved by union members, who represent maintenance workers, customer service representatives, laborers, and dispatchers at CNR, it would end the threat of a strike for at least three years.

The union was urging members to accept the agreement, according to Rosner, who added he had "no doubt" members would ratify the deal.

At the same time, the CAW is continuing to negotiate with Canadian Pacific Railway Co. (CPR). Conciliated talks began Aug 31, and are scheduled to end tomorrow. No new developments have yet emerged from the meetings, according to Rosner.

Gary Fane, the union's director of transportation, previously said that after Friday, the union would ask to be released from the conciliation process. CAW represents 4,000 members at CPR. Union officials previously reported they would hold either a ratification meeting or a strike vote on Sept 8.

New Jersey law addresses train track issues

NEWARK -- Crossing Newark's railroad tracks now has financial consequences. Under a new law, first-time trespassers who use the tracks for shortcuts could face a fine as high as a 500-dollars. Police Chief Bill Hogan says unlike the city's other trespassing laws, the tracks will NOT need to post signs. Enforcement of the law begins in ten days' time.

Brazil delays sale of its railroad

SAO PAULO -- The Brazilian government has postponed for two months the sale of Fepasa, the final and most-prized portion of the state railway network.

A government spokesman said the delay was caused by a desire in Brasilia to take a closer look at which prior railroad-bid winners have failed to meet infrastructure and traffic commitments. The new date for the sale is Nov. 10. Although the government did not cite the financial turmoil rocking global markets, the currency and stock market volatility is believed to have contributed to the delay.

The Brazilian government has set a minimum bid of $198.6 million, and delaying the bid for two months probably will allow for a cooling-off period that could result in higher offers.

Brazilian transport officials have been critical of winners in other rail bids, noting that few had met the terms of their long-term agreements. Bid winners have countered that Brazil's antiquated labor laws and difficulty in reaching agreement with rail workers have slowed the process.

Fepasa is the proverbial jewel of the country's rail network, spanning much of Brazil's most developed and industrial state. Fepasa's track feeds into Santos, the busiest port in South America.

Moreover, Fepasa is closely being eyed by partners in Ferronorte, a railroad being built in the vast but untapped Brazilian agricultural heartland. Ferronorte already has a long-term contract to move freight over Fepasa but has formed a new holding company recently with U.S. and Brazilian investors to bid for Fepasa. Others expressing interest in participating in bid ventures include the ship lines Grupo Libra and Transroll Navegacao.

AirTran workers may walk out Saturday

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Thirty AirTran flight attendants picketed with "Give us a Contract" signs Wednesday at Orlando International Airport while union negotiators in Atlanta met with officials from the discount airline.

If no contract is agreed upon by 12:01 a.m. EDT Saturday, the flight attendants plan to stage unannounced work stoppages on random flights.

Union officials said the intermittent disruptions, which they called "CHAOS" strikes -- or Create Havoc Around Our System -- could affect any of the 284 flights from the 37 cities that the Orlando-based carrier services.

"Anytime, anywhere, a flight could be shut down," said Scott Treibitz, a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants in Washington. "The idea is you may be able to fly Friday on the system, but you may not be able to get the flight home."

It would be the third labor demonstration by workers at a North American airline this week.

AirTran's 500 flight attendants have been working without a contract since they organized three years ago as employees of what was then ValuJet Airlines. Union officials said dozens of pro-union flight attendants have since been fired.

Negotiations with the union were suspended in May 1996 after 110 people were killed in the crash of ValuJet flight 592 in the Everglades. Negotiations were held in late 1996, 1997 and most of 1998, but a contract wasn't reached, union officials said.

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Last Updated 09/26/98 20:00 hrs. EST


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