NWA’s layoff gaffe

Helen Palmer Aug 17, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Northwest Airlines flight attendants got the green light today from a federal judge. The union’s been threatening a strike over pay and benefit cuts. The judge said they can walk out on August 25th, if they want to. Northwest’s in bankruptcy protection. So it’s been trying to save every nickel it can. It’s cut pay. And it’s preparing for layoffs. But management might want to spend a little more on public relations. The airline has been handing out a booklet to its employees: “101 Ways to Save Money.” Nice, right? Helen Palmer reports from WGBH.

HELEN PALMER: Workers call these handy-dandy cost saving tips degrading, demeaning, ridiculous.

Tip No 15: Get hand-me-down clothes and toys for your kids from friends and relatives.

Then there’s number 46.

Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.

This is incredibly insulting, says Rick Thornton of Northwest’s flight attendants union.

RICK THORNTON: Salt in my wound. Kick me when I’m down. That’s nice. Now they want me to become a dumpster diver.

The laid-off groundstaff who actually got these pointers belong to the Association of Machinists. Union spokesman Joe Tiberi says this booklet further sours relations with workers.

JOE TIBERI: It actually makes things worse. These are people who have recall rights to Northwest Airlines. But when they’re treated this way, it makes it very difficult for them to even want to ever come back to work for the airline.

Northwest says it relied on an outside employment assistance company for the booklet. It’s apologized to the workers. But Cornell labor expert Kate Bronfenbrenner says this poor judgment will haunt the company.

KATE BRONFENBRENNER: You don’t respect employees, that means you also don’t respect consumers. That means you’re insensitive to human beings as a whole.

Meantime, if you want some penny-pinching thoughts . . . Cut the kids’ hair yourself, or take a shorter shower, or move to a less-expensive place to live.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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