Federal mediators ordered up a new round of negotiations between Northwest Airlines Corp. and its flight attendants to begin on Wednesday, but it wasn't clear whether the first talks in two months would go anywhere.
Flight attendants had refused to negotiate, saying that a court order barring a strike put them at an unfair disadvantage. Instead, they asked for mediators to release them into a 30-day cooling-off period that federal labor law requires before an airline strike.
But mediators rejected that request after a meeting Tuesday in Washington aimed at determining whether negotiations might be worthwhile.
'We prefer a consensual agreement, so we're more than happy to participate,' said David Borer, general counsel for the Association of Flight Attendants. 'But if there's no substantive movement, we would expect to continue to argue that we're at an impasse and we should be released into a 30-day cooling-off period.'
Even though Northwest has already imposed new terms on flight attendants, the airline said it would negotiate. Still, the nation's fifth-largest airline has never backed away from its goal of saving $195 million a year on its flight attendant labor costs.
'Northwest Airlines wants a consensual agreement with the AFA and is working hard to achieve that goal as soon as possible,' it said in a written statement.
Northwest is reorganizing under bankruptcy protection and has new labor agreements in place with its other workers. But flight attendants have twice rejected negotiated pay cuts and work rule changes. Northwest imposed changes with a bankruptcy judge's permission after the latest rejection, on July 31. Eighty percent of flight attendants had rejected those terms, which included steep pay cuts and the loss of pay for time on the ground.
A federal judge blocked the union's plans for random, unannounced walkouts until the union follows all the mediation requirements of the Railway Labor Act. The union has filed a notice that it will appeal that ruling.
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