MINNEAPOLIS_Northwest Airlines Corp. flight attendants rejected a wage-cutting contract on Monday, setting the stage for a possible strike against the troubled air carrier.
Northwest, the fifth-largest U.S. airline, said it would impose its own terms, and the union responded by threatening job actions that could include a strike.
Northwest already has permission from a bankruptcy judge to impose an earlier tentative agreement rejected by 80 percent of flight attendants in June.
"We are now implementing new contract terms and conditions," Mike Becker, senior vice president of human resources and labor relations, said in a statement.
The union said that was its trigger for random, unannounced strikes.
"As soon as there are unilateral changes to the contract, that's our go-ahead," said Association of Flight Attendants spokeswoman Corey Caldwell.
The airline has said any strike would be illegal and that it would seek a court order to block one.
The latest vote was 55 percent against the new contract and 45 percent in favor.
"This decision is an example of the flight attendants' determination not to watch their livelihoods be squandered by management," Caldwell said.
Under the proposed contract, flight attendants faced pay cuts of roughly 21 percent. The union said the reduction amounted to 40 percent once health care costs and other givebacks were factored in.
"Our members have spoken: these drastic cuts to our pay, benefits and work rules are simply unacceptable," said a statement from Mollie Reiley, interim president of the union's Northwest branch.
The union said it hoped Northwest would negotiate more. But Northwest, which has been seeking worker pay cuts since 2003, said time was up.
Its new agreements with pilots and ground workers cannot take effect until it has a new contract with flight attendants, too - either one that workers approve, or one the company imposes on them.
"Notwithstanding the results of the flight attendants' contract vote, Northwest must continue to move forward with its restructuring efforts," Becker said.
He said the imposed contract would save the airline $195 million - the same as two tentative agreements previously rejected by the flight attendants.
If flight attendants walk off the job, it would be Northwest's second strike in less than a year. Union mechanics struck in August 2005 rather than accept pay cuts. Northwest hired replacement workers and sent the work to outside contractors.