With a degree in journalism and a lengthy career as a flight attendant with NWA, Beth Wilson left the company in 2005 when the mechanics went on strike, refusing to cross their picket line.
In her words: “When I was a little girl growing up in a major Midwestern city, my dad used to load us up into the family car and drive us to the airport. He parked the car directly across the road from the runway, and we all marveled at the airplanes touching down, and taking off directly over our heads. My dad’s unbridled enthusiasm for flying machines, along with a passion for travel, instilled in me a powerful curiosity of aviation. I finally succumbed to the lure of the skies and was hired as a flight attendant in the late 1980s by a solid company with a promising future: Northwest Airlines. That first year I was flying all over the world, and seeing places I had only dreamt about. I was in love with my job.
Just one short year later things changed. Terms like leveraged buyout and corporate raiders were tossed around by employees. This marked the beginning of a turbulent downward spiral for Northwest employees, as the threat of bankruptcy and layoffs was now hanging over our heads. From that point on we never again felt secure about our jobs, our pay, our benefits or our futures. We did what good employees do who believe in the company they work for…we soldiered on, while a procession of CEOs came and went. Things went from bad to worse – a bitter pilots’ strike, the trauma of 9/11, skyrocketing fuel prices, contentious contract negotiations, and finally, a showdown between the mechanics and Northwest management. The mechanics went on strike in August 2005, and the following month NWA declared bankruptcy – the first time in its 79-year history. I chose to quit because I did not want to cross the mechanics’ picket line. I supported their cause, and could no longer justify working for a company that placed profit above all else. To me, Northwest had lost its soul.
My friends who remain employed by the airline endure experiences that no one should ever have to deal with: their pay cut nearly in half, benefits slashed, pensions hanging in limbo. All employees continue to deal with the tough issues of how to pay their mortgage and buy food for their families. Some work two, even three jobs to stay solvent. Some have lost their homes. Most are bitter, and cannot understand how this chain of events was allowed to happen. Those that left the company and those still there all feel a profound sadness and loss of control.
I was one of the lucky ones. I had enough money saved to survive the transition to a new career. What’s happening at Northwest is truly a microcosm of what’s happening to middle class America: corporate greed, outsourcing, layoffs, globalization, loss of pensions, union-busting, and the beginning of the end for the American dream. This happens to good people every day. That’s a big story that needs to be told. And I’m going to be the one to do it.”