The Eagan man looked like a tough customer, but he was known for his compassion for airline workers.
Former Northwest Airlines machinist Vince (Vinnie) Bazzachini, who led Minnesota's largest local labor union during a tumultuous period in the 1990s, died Friday at his home in Eagan.
Bazzachini, who battled fiercely against Northwest management while he simultaneously coped with a civil war within his own union, died of an apparent heart attack. He was 54.
"Vinnie was never a rabble rouser. He was a compassionate leader," said Dan Lockren, who also served in a leadership position at Local 1833 of the International Association of Machinists (IAM).
Bazzachini, a native of Hibbing, was elected president of IAM Local 1833 in January 1994 and served through June 1999.
He assumed that post shortly after Northwest mechanics and other ground workers agreed to major concessions in 1993 to prevent Northwest from entering bankruptcy.
"There was a lot of healing to be done, and he came in at the right time," Lockren said.
At that time, the IAM local represented about 13,000 ticket agents, mechanics, baggage handlers and other ground workers, said Bill Fleischman, a former Northwest mechanic and IAM leader.
"Vinnie was a prime example of a hands-on union man," Fleischman said. He would work a full shift at Northwest and then go into his union office -- with dirty hands from working on machines all day -- and take care of union business, Fleischman said.
"Vinnie was very approachable," Fleischman said. "The guy could tell a joke off the top of his head."
Bazzachini grew up in a family of six and followed in his father Alfred's footsteps by becoming a machinist at U.S. Steel Co.'s Minntac mine after graduating from Hibbing High School in 1971. When hard times hit the Iron Range in the early 1980s, Bazzachini was laid off from his mining job. In 1982, he found work in Northwest's machine shop, where he machined and refurbished aircraft parts throughout his career there.
Doug McKeen, a former Northwest vice president of labor relations, said that Bazzachini's roots on the Range were evident in his commitment to union members and his community.
"He was a blunt, frank guy," McKeen said. But McKeen added that he also saw the softer side of Bazzachini when he was a lead dancer in a dance show sponsored by the studio where daughters of Bazzachini and Mc-Keen took lessons. After Bazzachini performed, McKeen said, "I was able to harass him about it for years."
Lockren and IAM Grand Lodge representative Marv Sandrin said Bazzachini focused his energy on getting results instead of making speeches. Sandrin recalled a time when Bazzachini rescued the jobs of five workers by appealing their firings directly to former CEO Richard Anderson, when Anderson oversaw maintenance operations. "He was a one-in-a-million guy," Sandrin said.
While Bazzachini focused on building unity within the union during the 1990s, a large segment of the mechanics became angry with the IAM's leadership near the end of that decade. The rift was intensifying at about the same time that Northwest pilots went on strike in 1998. The mechanics ultimately broke away and joined an independent union.
Bazzachini and his wife of 33 years, Janet, loved to ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and his most recent bike was a white Police Special that he prided himself on never washing. Fleischman, who now owns a tavern near Ellsworth, Wis., said that Bazzachini had a trademark ponytail. "He wore it braided and it went down to his lower back. He usually had a huge goatee going," Fleischman said.
But while Bazzachini looked like a tough customer, his friends and fellow IAM members said he raised money to buy guide dogs for blind people. He also promoted motorcycle safety and biker rights through the St. Croix Valley Riders, where he was sergeant at arms.
Friends said that Bazzachini's Catholic faith was important to him. Lockren said that Bazzachini truly believed in the Bible verse, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
After Northwest mechanic leaders called a strike in August 2005, Bazzachini was forced to look for a new job at age 52. He signed on as an apprentice millwright 18 months ago with St. Paul-based Millwright Local 548. He said at the time of his job change that he was glad to be working with his hands again.