MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ With a possible mechanics strike looming, Northwest Airlines Corp. said it has nearly finished training replacement workers and that it has already begun shifting more maintenance work to outside contractors.
Northwest, the nation's fourth-largest airline, has vowed to keep flying if mechanics strike at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Aug. 20, when a 30-day cooling-off period ends. A strike would hit it during the busy summer travel months.
Northwest released new details of its strike plan on Thursday as part of an employee newsletter being distributed this week.
Northwest said only a small percentage of its planes would need heavy maintenance between August and November. It also said it has already moved Airbus A330 and Boeing 747 line maintenance, work done in a few hours, to outside vendors, and that its Dutch airline partner KLM has taken on ''an expanded maintenance role.''
It said 84 percent of its replacement mechanics and outside contractors have at least five years of experience, and 64 percent have at least 10 years of experience. It said it has not changed its hiring standards for the replacement workers.
''We do not and will not dispatch an aircraft if we are not confident that it is in a safe operating condition,'' vice president for operations Andy Roberts said in the newsletter.
Mechanics have derided Northwest's plan to keep flying. Northwest's fleet includes DC-9s and DC-10s, some of which are more than 30 years old.
''They won't even know where the tools are,'' said O.V. Delle-Femine, national director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association said on Wednesday when the strike deadline was set. ''Our mechanics grew up with these vintage planes and know all of their idiosyncrasies and how to keep them flying reliably. Many of the replacements will be learning how to work on these aircraft for the first time.''
Also Thursday, Northwest flight attendants said they sued the airline, demanding that it stop training replacement flight attendants on Northwest flights in preparation for a strike. It said the new flight attendants aren't yet employees and shouldn't be allowed to perform flight attendant work.
Northwest said it would respond to the lawsuit later on Thursday. But a July 5 letter from Vice President for Labor Relations Julie Hagen Showers included with the lawsuit said the PFAA contract doesn't apply to the trainees because they have not been promised a job and because the training is different from the usual flight attendant training.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, included a July 11 memo from Brenda Van Sandt, Northwest's managing director for base operations. It reminded flight attendants that they need to cooperate in the training of the workers who would replace them, including on FAA-required training flights.
''We know this is a difficult situation for all involved and if there was another way to accomplish the (training) flights, without involving Flight Attendants, we would have used it. Unfortunately, there isn't,'' she wrote.
Northwest's flight attendants and pilots have not said whether they will cross the picket line if mechanics strike.
Northwest is seeking $1.1 billion worth of wage concessions from its workers. It got $300 million from pilots and salaried employees last year, but mechanics and flight attendants have resisted.
Northwest has proposed $176 million worth of cuts from mechanics, including a 25 percent pay cut. It also wants to lay off roughly 2,000 of AMFA's current 4,500 Northwest workers. In January 2002, Northwest employed 8,390 AMFA workers.
Airports in Fort Dodge, Waterloo and Mason City depend entirely on Northwest Airlink carrier Mesaba Airlines for all commercial air travel.
Northwest Airlines Corp. will hand some of its aircraft cleaning work to ground workers, the workers' union said Thursday, returning jobs that were lost to the mechanics in 1998.
The rift is widening between the mechanics union at Northwest Airlines and the union representing the baggage handlers and other ground workers.