Apr. 4 -- Northwest Airlines flight attendants, blocked from striking since last August, said Tuesday that they will ask the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals to review a three-judge panel's ruling last week that upheld a strike injunction and labeled the union "intransigent."
The attendants have been working under imposed pay rates and work rules since July 31. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals -- all based in New York -- have prevented them from engaging in random work stoppages in response to Northwest's action.
Union leaders want to recapture the legal right to strike, because they contend it would enhance their leverage at the bargaining table with Northwest. The airline achieved savings of $195 million per year under the imposed terms. Leaders of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) argue that the carrier has sought more severe cuts than it needs to be profitable. Last year, the rank and file rejected two tentative agreements.
Because Northwest was permitted by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper to reject the flight attendants' contract and impose work terms, the union has been unable to push or nudge Northwest toward a lower labor savings number.
"This business-friendly environment within our judicial system has run rampant and, in the process, has stripped millions of workers of their right to stand up for themselves in the face of corporate greed," Patricia Friend, AFA international president, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "We have an extraordinary case before us, one that clearly warrants reconsideration, and [one] whose outcome will affect the rights of workers throughout the airline and railroad industries."
Last week's ruling that favored Northwest's legal position was made by a three-judge panel. If the U.S. Court of Appeals accepts the union's petition, the case would be reheard by a majority of the judges on the Second Circuit.
Northwest declined to comment Tuesday on the union's decision to appeal the recent ruling. "Our focus remains on reaching a consensual agreement with the AFA as soon as possible," Northwest said in a prepared statement.
On Thursday, Northwest and the union are expected to submit new briefs to Gropper in bankruptcy court. After the appeals panel's ruling, he requested additional filings from the parties on two issues before him.
The flight attendants have filed for a $1.1 billion unsecured claim in the case, based largely on the union's estimated damages from Northwest imposing work terms. In addition, the union wants Gropper to give flight attendants relief from his earlier decision that permitted Northwest to toss out their contract.
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Under Gropper's ruling, "the flight attendants won't have any claim" unless they reach a new deal by the end of the bankruptcy.
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