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Arts & Culture

The Red Tail

Roy Koch shakes the hand of ironworkers during one of the largest strikes in Hong Kong in the past century.
Courtesy of Roy Koch
Roy Koch shakes the hand of ironworkers during one of the largest strikes in Hong Kong in the past century.

Airs Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

On August 19, 2005 Roy Koch, along with 4,400 airline mechanics, custodians, and cleaners, went on strike against Northwest Airlines, the 4th largest airline in the world. Northwest, otherwise known as “The Red Tail” by its employees, wanted to lay off 53% of their union and outsource their jobs.

What followed was a 444 day strike that would end with 4,000 union members out of work, including Roy. Instead of being left in the wake of this “losing battle”, Roy and his daughter Melissa (Co- director of “The Red Tail”) decide to follow Roy’s outsourced job to China.

The film interweaves Roy and Melissa’s search for connection in China with the premeditated downfall of Northwest Airlines. (Which becomes Delta Airlines, the largest airline to ever take to the skies).


This downfall is a vibrant example of the dangers of our current economic system, which serves to make the rich richer even as the middle and working classes disappear. Their journey takes the viewer to the heart of the challenge facing the global working class – what is our place in the global economy? – In the world?

At age 58, Roy Koch was looking forward to his hard-earned retirement after 38 years of working as an aircraft mechanic. Left in the wake of a failed strike, Roy is no longer the breadwinner in his family and wonders what to do now.

In August of 2007 the entire Koch family takes their first journey to Hong Kong to meet the workers at HAECO (Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company), one of the major maintenance bases serving Northwest Airlines, as well as United, Delta, and a host of other international airlines.

Our main character, Roy, and his family share an irreverent humor and understanding of their lives within a global context. The Koch’s journey is a search for dignity amidst the helplessness experienced by global workers; a quest to reclaim their power.

While in Hong Kong, the Koch family not only meets Roy’s replacement and the top brass at HAECO, but they also become enmeshed in the bigger picture. Serendipitously, the ironworkers of Hong Kong are waging one of the largest strikes in Hong Kong in the past century. The Koch family does what any “good union family” would do; they join them in the streets of Hong Kong.


Upon learning that Roy’s Hong Kong replacement is also being threatened with outsourcing, Roy and Melissa journey to Xiamen, China nine months later to meet workers who will eventually replace the Hong Kong workers.

In mainland China Roy and Melissa witness a growing middle class and learn that upper management at TAECO (Xiamen’s Aircraft Engineering Company and sister company to HAECO) are preparing for the day when the jobs at TAECO will again be outsourced to the next cheapest market, leaving thousands of workers in Xiamen without jobs.

"The Red Tail" looks at our broken economic system which encourages and rewards CEOs and upper management to line their own pockets instead of caring for the heart of a company: its long-term stability and life-long employees. It also shows the common struggles that workers experience worldwide through an endless chain of outsourcing. This film offers a new perspective on globalization and the lives that hang in the balance.

"The Red Tail" is on Facebook, and you can follow @RedTailMovie on Twitter.

Trailer: The Red Tail