Northwest Airlines Corp. and its flight attendants, locked in a dispute that could end in a strike, offered sharply differing views on Wednesday on whether they can solve their problems at the negotiating table.
Last week a federal district judge blocked random, unannounced job actions planned by flight attendants, who are trying to force Northwest to negotiate a better deal. On Wednesday the Association of Flight Attendants told the judge that it appears there is little likelihood that talks would be fruitful.
However, Northwest claimed it is willing to talk and that it "is working on its own new ideas to propose to the AFA negotiators, and would also be pleased to consider any new proposals made by the AFA negotiators as soon as they are made," it wrote in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero on Wednesday.
"Northwest stands ready willing and able to continue negotiations with the AFA negotiators at this time and is prepared to return to the negotiating table at the earliest opportunity," its letter said.
Marrero blocked a strike on Friday and had told both sides to report by Wednesday whether more talks would be fruitful. He has not said when he'll make a final decision about whether flight attendants can strike.
"There is no reason to believe that the company would sit down and negotiate fairly after they have destroyed our contract, cut our wages and benefits by 40 percent, and attacked our right to strike," said Mollie Reiley, interim president of the Northwest branch of the Association of Flight Attendants. "They would like us to return to the table while the injunction is in place and our hands are tied."
After flight attendants twice rejected negotiated settlements, Northwest imposed a new contract that included cuts in base pay of about 21 percent. The union has said it amounts to more like 40 percent when health insurance cost hikes are factored in.
The union is threatening random, unannounced work actions to disrupt Northwest's operations. Northwest says a strike like that could potentially kill it. It has also argued that a strike would be illegal.
The airline has been operating under bankruptcy protection for nearly a year.
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Northwest Airlines flight attendants said Wednesday only a strike will force the airline to make a deal, and they asked a judge to rule quickly on whether they can stage random, unannounced walkouts.
The flight attendant union, which has twice rejected contract offers from management, had planned to launch unannounced, sporadic walkouts.
If the board agrees that more talks are pointless, it could start a 30-day clock ticking toward a strike.
Flight attendants had refused to negotiate, saying that a court order barring a strike put them at an unfair disadvantage.