Magazine article Newsweek

Northwest Passage: White House Muscle Breaks a Logjam

Magazine article Newsweek

Northwest Passage: White House Muscle Breaks a Logjam

Article excerpt

Bruce lindsey has always been the most trusted White House consigliere, the go-to guy for putting fires out swiftly--and discreetly. In recent months, he's been spending most of his time in the Monicagate bunker. But last week he was back in his familiar role as troubleshooter in chief. His mission: parachute into the heartland to mediate the strike at Northwest Airlines. For two weeks the shutdown had crippled the Midwest, stranding hundreds of thousands of travelers. Cargo sat idle at airports in Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis, Tenn. And back in Washington, Bill Clinton was hungry for any sort of victory that would show him to be still on top of his job.

And so, last Tuesday afternoon, Lindsey flew to Minneapolis, where striking pilots and Northwest execs were locked in anangry standoff. Scarcely two days later, on Thursday evening, the president strolled onto the White House lawn and announced a tentative settlement. Northwest would soon return to the skies, said Clinton, calling it "a victory for all Americans." Lindsey made the win look easy--but it wasn't. He cajoled, threatened and almost walked away, Newsweek has learned, before he was able to clinch a deal. Nor is the battle over. Before the strike can end, the union's governing board and possibly its general membership must ratify the deal--a process that could take days. And more strikes loom, at Northwest (possibly by restive flight attendants and machinists) as well as at other major airlines.

When Lindsey arrived on the scene, he found two bitterly warring camps, each entrenched in suites at opposite ends of the second floor of a suburban Radisson Hotel. Security guards hunkered down outside the doors. The rooms in between were occupied by cohorts of boisterous agricultural-produce dealers in town for a grocers' convention. How far apart were the two sides? Barely talking. Negotiators--to use the term loosely--could scarcely muster the civility to agree on whose turn it was to make the next futile counter-counter-counteroffer necessary to keep the talks going.

Dubbing himself "the Enforcer," according to people involved in the negotiations, Lindsey first confronted Northwest's management. If the airline didn't soften its stance on the striking pilots' demands, he told the execs, the administration would rethink its approval of the carrier's pending alliance with Continental Airlines. With Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater at his side, he also threatened to force Northwest to resume operations at its affiliated commuter airlines, serving dozens of smaller cities cut off by the strike. …

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