Northwest Airlines Pilots Recall Their Union Leader

Pilots at Northwest Airlines Corp. have ousted union chief Mark McClain after he led them through tough negotiations that resulted in steep pay cuts and major concessions.

The union's Master Executive Council elected McClain as chairman in 1999. That same council voted 6-5 with one abstention to remove him on Tuesday, the union said. That was the same day a bankruptcy judge in New York approved the pilot's new, 5 1/2-year contract.

"It's been a longtime process of concessionary bargaining, and a lot of people aren't happy with the results," said union spokesman Wade Blaufuss.

McClain, a 757 captain, had survived another recall attempt in April. He was re-elected as chairman as recently as October.

"The union is very political, and some people focus on the political goals while I've focused on pilot goals," McClain said Wednesday. "I'll go back to the line and fly. It's been a great privilege to represent the pilots."

Eagan, Minnesota-based Northwest began looking for labor concessions in 2003, saying it needed them to stay out of bankruptcy. McClain was alone among the airline's major union leaders in agreeing that the cuts were necessary, though he noted that other labor leaders eventually agreed to concessions.

Pilots approved an initial round of concessions including a 15 percent pay cut in 2004, and promised more if other unions went along, too. But none of the other unions agreed to cuts until after Northwest filed for bankruptcy protection in September.

In bankruptcy, Northwest threatened to reject union contracts and impose its own terms. Under that threat, McClain led pilots to the brink of a strike before agreeing to a 5 1/2-year contract with 24 percent pay cuts and other major concessions. Pilots approved that contract May 3.

On Wednesday, a mediator was set to meet with Northwest and flight attendants, the last union which has not agreed to concessions. Northwest has agreed to wait until at least June 30 before imposing its terms on them.

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