Mesaba Takes Union to Court, Insists its Mechanics Must Work

Mesaba Airlines asked a federal court Wednesday to order its mechanics to keep working if their colleagues at Northwest Airlines strike, claiming Mesaba and the traveling public "face irreparable harm" from a disruption.

A hearing is expected today in a Minneapolis federal court to consider the airline's request for a temporary restraining order.

Meanwhile, Northwest Airlines' negotiators in talks Wednesday offered a new economic proposal in the face of Friday's 11:01 p.m. mechanics strike deadline, a union official said.

Northwest declined to confirm the offer and the union declined to provide details, but Steve MacFarlane, assistant national director for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, said the two sides were still far apart. "Based on what has happened to date, I am not optimistic that we will be able to bridge the gap that still exists," he said.

Northwest Airlines maintains it will continue to operate a full schedule if it is without its union mechanics after Friday. It plans to tap more than 1,000 replacement workers and hundreds of managers along with outside vendors to keep its fleet of more than 400 jets operating.

Northwest regional carrier Mesaba says it's been told that its mechanics intend to stay off the job if their counterparts at the larger airline are on the picket line. Unlike Northwest, Mesaba sees big trouble ahead if that happens, according to its court filing.

Eagan-based Mesaba operates as Northwest Airlink, and flies about 600 daily flights to nearly 120 cities in 24 states. In the Twin Cities, it feeds 5.4 million passengers a year to Northwest Airlines from smaller cities.

In the complaint filed Wednesday, Mesaba maintains its mechanics would be violating their contract with the airline if they didn't report to work. Mesaba's nearly 250 mechanics are also represented by AMFA, under a separate contract. AMFA disputes the airline's contention.

"If the guys don't want to cross the picket line, they're not going to cross the picket line," said Ted Ludwig, president of AMFA Local 33.

Mesaba paints a grim picture if its mechanics are off the job after Friday. In the event of a work stoppage, Mesaba said it would be "deprived of highly skilled mechanics who the airline may not be able to replace."

"A work stoppage by Mesaba's mechanics would severely disrupt Mesaba's operations and deprive tens of thousands of passengers of air travel including many passengers in the 21 cities where there is no alternative airline service," the court filing states.

Wade Slagle, who has been a Mesaba mechanic for 16 years, says it comes down to personal choice. "Every mechanic has to make that individual decision when they face the Northwest pickets," he said.

Northwest is seeking $1.1 billion in annual labor cost savings from workers, including $176 million from its mechanics group. It has also proposed cutting about half of the remaining 4,400 mechanics and cleaners represented by AMFA at the airline.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press