Northwest, Pilots Reach Deal

Union leadership and members still must approve the pay-cut agreement.

Pilots reached a tentative pay-cut deal with Northwest Airlines Corp. on Friday, a major step toward ending a showdown that had put the bankrupt airline's future in doubt.

The Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association announced the agreement but didn't release details. The nation's fourth-largest airline said it got the $358 million in cost saving it sought from the pilots.

The deal still would have to be approved by the union's leadership and members. The union said its leaders would meet Friday night to consider the agreement.

"The tentative agreement is a painful but necessary part of a successful restructuring of Northwest Airlines,'' said Mark McClain, head of the Northwest branch of the pilot's union. "If all of us can distance ourselves from these recent labor struggles and focus on ensuring the future success of Northwest, we can begin looking forward to our emergence from bankruptcy as a proud and profitable airline.''

Word of the agreement was great news to Lincoln Airport Authority executive director John Wood.

"I don't think anybody wanted to see them go on strike," Wood said.

A pilots' strike probably would have eliminated Lincoln's Northwest Airlink service, according to travel analyst Terry Trippler. Locally, Northwest has five daily flights to and from Minneapolis/St. Paul and one to and from Detroit. That service is provided for Northwest by Pinnacle Airlines, whose pilots would have honored a strike.

If its unions all approve their agreements, Northwest will have reduced its labor costs by $1.4 billion since late 2004, when pilots first took a 15 percent pay cut. Northwest said it also has cut wages of salaried and management employees twice. The airline said it's trying to cut a total of $2.5 billion in annual costs "in order to return the company to profitability on a sustained basis.''

Northwest had been seeking to abandon its contract with pilots if they didn't agree to pay cuts and changes in work rules. Intense negotiations took place all week. The stakes rose on Wednesday, when a judge could have ruled on Northwest's request but chose to wait to give negotiators more time.

The bankruptcy law could have allowed Northwest to impose its terms even without the judge's ruling, but pilots threatened to strike if that happened. Northwest has said a strike could have killed it.

Northwest filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 14 and continued its pre-bankruptcy push for $1.4 billion in pay cuts from all its workers. Pilots already had taken a 15 percent pay cut in late 2004 and another, temporary 24 percent pay cut in bankruptcy. A permanent pay cut was part of the latest round of talks, along with Northwest's push for more flexibility in who flies its smaller jets. Pilots were seeking to own part of Northwest once it emerges from Chapter 11.

On Wednesday, flight attendants reached a tentative agreement with the airline. The airline's baggage handlers and other ground workers also are voting on whether to accept their agreement with Northwest. Organized mechanics remain on strike against Northwest, but the airline has replaced them permanently.

Journal Star reporter Rodd Cayton contributed to this report.

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