Viewpoint: Passenger service crash/cash?

Viewpoint: Passenger service crash/cash?

By Joe Baker

Passenger service crash/cash?

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

In this time of economic downturn and wholesale layoffs, it appears Greater Rockford Airport will be no exception. Union employees at the airport have been notified of layoffs beginning May 1.

A letter from attorney James Pirages of Hinshaw & Culbertson states: “…the Greater Rockford Airport Authority is considering the elimination of the screener and telecommunicator functions in their entirety. Additionally, the GRAA is considering the elimination of certain functions that are performed by the employees in the patrol officer/corporal bargaining unit that may result in the elimination of some jobs within that group, as well as in the modification of job duties.”

A union official claimed security officers had been eliminated, but an airport spokesman said 13 officers are on the payroll, and there has been no reduction in force.

Union spokesman Tom Johnson said two full-time and two part-time employees, both dispatchers, will be laid off May 11.

Johnson said airport officials cited “redundancy in services” as the reason for the cutbacks.

The layoffs appear aimed primarily at security personnel and dispatchers. The layoff announcement follows on the heels of an announcement by Northwest Airlines that it is ending Airlink service to Rockford in June.

If you don’t have any passengers, there is little need for a security force or for crash-rescue personnel. If there are no aircraft coming in, there is not much need for dispatchers.

An airport attorney told employees the layoffs were not being done because of money. Airport employees see the move as a vindictive action resulting from their lawsuit against the airport authority over computation of wages and hours. They claim James Loomis, airport director, wants to get rid of the union because the lawsuit was brought by unionized workers. “It is just union busting,” Johnson said.

Some employees reportedly have been offered early retirement settlements.

Word around the airport is that Loomis went to Minneapolis right after Northwest announced it was dropping its 1 p.m. flight to Detroit. Whether he was invited by the airline or went on his own is unclear and unconfirmed.

The unconfirmed story goes that Northwest officials asked Loomis if he would do some advertising to support the remaining flights. He reportedly told them it was not in his budget. Northwest then said it was pulling out. If true, it means the airport director knew in advance that

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the sole passenger service was leaving our airport.

Attempts to reach Loomis for comment were unsuccessful.

The Rock River Times sought comment from Michael Zonsius, airport accountant. He said he could not comment because it concerned a personnel matter.

Northwest was too polite to either confirm or deny that story. They simply repeated the official statement that there was not enough traffic to justify the flights.

Supposed negotiations are underway with another airline—possibly Skyway—to begin serving Rockford. Employees say they know of no such negotiations.

So while we don’t have any passenger flights from Greater Rockford Airport and while the ax may go after the union, Loomis was rewarded with a pay increase, reportedly 9 percent.

For more than $100,000 a year, we get no passenger service and a stripped-down work force. Employees say airport administrators may get more money if enough cuts are made to save a goodly amount of operating expense.

Reportedly, city police are going to take over security concerns at the airport, but they won’t be there all the time. If there is an incident, it will be a few minutes before they can respond. Not too long ago, airport security stopped a man from boarding an aircraft with a loaded gun. Police won’t be able to get there that quickly.

Two weeks ago, a press release from the airport authority announced a briefing by Loomis, Ryan Petty of the Council of 100 and Michael Boyd, a consultant.

Boyd, it said, has been a consultant to the airport for the last four years. The release said he would position Rockford as Chicago’s third airport.

Where was he the last four years? We don’t recollect Mr. Boyd making any recommendations of any sort. Now he suddenly materializes out of the void with all kinds of plans.

Will the new administration in City Hall make it seem highly unlikely that Greater Rockford Airport will be positioned for anything except parking cars?

It is interesting that no member of airport management is included in the layoffs, just the grunts who do the work. The good ol’ boys go right on drawing some bucks and enjoying their perks.

Meantime, the decline continues. Some businesses that were located at the airport (Air Taxi, Flight Lines) are gone, more may follow. We have an airport with no airplanes, except for cargo flights, and little prospect of any passenger service.

The window of opportunity for airport growth soon will close. Where will we be then?

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