U.S., Airlines Seek to Block Strike

The Justice Department and more than 20 airlines asked a judge Wednesday to block a flight attendants' strike at Northwest Airlines Corp., saying a work stoppage would disrupt transportation and hurt the economy.

The companies and the government filed court papers backing Northwest's appeal of Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper's refusal to stop a strike. A walkout could cause the company's liquidation and the loss of 34,000 jobs, Northwest has said.

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"It is beyond doubt that a labor strike by the flight attendants of Northwest Airlines would cause serious disruptions not only to Northwest's operations but to the air transportation system generally," the government said in a filing in U.S. District Court in New York.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero is scheduled to consider the appeal at a hearing Friday, hours before the union says it will begin scattered work stoppages.

The union said Wednesday that it had sent home contract negotiators and that talks were unlikely ahead of a Friday strike deadline.

The airlines said Gropper should have blocked the strike because Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest and the Assn. of Flight Attendants-CWA, the union for the airline's 9,300 flight attendants, were in mediation sessions with the National Mediation Board.

Gropper's "decision is grievously mistaken and its reach will have unprecedented and potentially disastrous consequences" for all airlines and the economy, the Air Transport Assn. of America and the Airline Industrial Relations Conference said in a filing. The groups represent more than 20 U.S. airlines.

The government and the airlines said the Railway Labor Act, a federal law governing labor relations in the airline and railroad industries, requires a release from the mediation process before a strike.

"Judge Gropper ruled very clearly that we have the right to strike," said David Borer, a lawyer representing the union. "We expect the same result Friday."

The union has said it will strike since Gropper in July authorized Northwest to impose $195 million in annual pay and benefit cuts as part of a plan to shave $1.4 billion in labor expenses.

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