Northwest Employees Seek OK for Walkouts

MINNEAPOLIS_Northwest Airlines flight attendants said Wednesday only a strike will force the airline to make a deal, and they asked a judge to rule quickly on whether they can stage random, unannounced walkouts.

Northwest Airlines Corp. offered to negotiate and said it is working on its own ideas to come up with a deal that flight attendants could accept. But it wasn't moving much - airline spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said it still wants $195 million a year in savings, the same as it would have gotten under two earlier negotiated settlements voted down by the rank-and-file.

The strike threat came after Northwest imposed the rejected terms, with a bankruptcy judge's permission, on July 31.

U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero in New York has temporarily blocked all job actions, and is considering how long to keep attendants from striking. He told both sides to report on Wednesday on whether more talks would help. He has not said when he'll make a final decision about whether flight attendants can strike.

The Association of Flight Attendants wrote to Marrero that informal contact with Northwest in recent days shows that "meaningful negotiations are not possible at this juncture." Northwest has little incentive to negotiate because it already got the pay cuts it wants when it imposed new terms, the union wrote.

"As a consequence, AFA believes that the only path to a negotiated settlement will be through the flight attendants' exercise of their legal right" to strike, their letter said.

Northwest wrote that it "stands ready willing and able to continue negotiations ... at the earliest opportunity." Its letter to Marrero said it is "working on its own new ideas to propose to the AFA negotiators, and would also be pleased to consider any new proposals made by the AFA negotiators as soon as they are made."

The union said talks would go nowhere.

"There is no reason to believe that the company would sit down and negotiate fairly after they have destroyed our contract, cut our wages and benefits by 40 percent, and attacked our right to strike," said Mollie Reiley, interim president of the Northwest branch of the Association of Flight Attendants. "They would like us to return to the table while the injunction is in place and our hands are tied."

Eagan-based Northwest is reorganizing in bankruptcy court, and has won new contracts with all its other workers that gave it the savings it wanted. But pilots and ground workers have so-called "me-too" clauses that would shrink their concessions if flight attendants win a better deal.

"We would definitely be interested to find out if the flight attendants are able to improve their situation," said Wade Blaufuss, spokesman for the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association.

After flight attendants twice rejected negotiated settlements, Northwest imposed a new contract that included a 21 percent cut in base pay. The union has said it amounts to more like 40 percent when health insurance cost hikes are factored in.

The union is threatening random, unannounced work actions to disrupt Northwest's operations. Northwest has said a strike like that could kill it. It has also argued that a strike would be illegal.

The airline has been operating under bankruptcy protection for nearly a year.


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