Northwest Airlines Corp. said it tentatively plans to resume talks with striking mechanics on Thursday. The airline's announcement on Wednesday came one day after it told the union it would begin hiring permanent replacement workers later this month.
But prospects for a deal were uncertain, with the airline saying it needs even bigger cuts than the ones mechanics went on strike over.
Union officials said they had not gotten confirmation from the National Mediation Board that talks are scheduled. But they're willing to meet, said O.V. Delle-Femine, the national director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.
"We said to the mediation board, anytime the board calls us we'll meet," he said Wednesday.
A letter sent to the union on Tuesday night, and released by the airline on Wednesday, threatened to begin hiring permanent replacements by Sept. 13.
Northwest's 4,427 mechanics, cleaners and custodians walked out on Aug. 20 rather than accept 25 percent pay cuts and layoffs of some 2,000 workers. Northwest's letter said it now needs even deeper cuts.
"Our last best offer which was presented to you on August 18 was based on economic circumstances that no longer exist today," said the letter to Delle-Femine from Julie Hagen Showers, Northwest's vice president for labor relations. "While the company was prepared to stand behind that offer in order to obtain a consensual agreement, unfortunately we are no longer able to do so."
The Northwest letter said striking mechanics have a legal right to return to any position for which they're qualified, even to replace temporary replacement workers.
It said its operations in its two largest hubs, Detroit and Minneapolis, are functioning smoothly with managers and temporary workers. But cleaning and custodial work, along with maintenance at spoke airports "have been permanently transferred to more efficient third party vendors," the letter said.
The letter to the union repeated claims the airline made last week that fuel prices have skyrocketed this year, and are expected to rise to $3.3 billion, up 50 percent from $2.2 billion last year. It said it will probably need labor savings above the $1.1 billion it had been seeking previously.
The company said any deal with the union will need to "be consistent with the changed circumstances described above."
Delle-Femine declined to respond to the letter, saying, "I'm going to see what they're going to say tomorrow at the table."
Shares of Northwest fell 15 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $3.44 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market, at the low end of a 52-week range of $3.23 to $11.83.
The airline's new proposal includes a 28 percent pay cut and cutting about 75 percent of the workforce.
Northwest Airlines and its striking union are scheduled to resume talks today.
In what appears to be a bid to move past a strike by its mechanics, Northwest Airlines has told the mechanics union it will begin hiring permanent replacement workers by Tuesday unless the union...
Northwest says it is nearly finished hiring permanent replacements, including many former strikers.