No Deal Yet in Northwest Airlines Talks

Feb. 24, 2006
Negotiators are set to meet in Judge Allan Gropper's chambers in New York at midday Friday to tell him about what progress they've made.

Labor talks at Northwest Airlines Corp. failed to produce a deal on the day before a judge is expected to decide if the carrier can reject its pilot and flight attendant union contracts.

Negotiators are set to meet in Judge Allan Gropper's chambers in New York at midday Friday to tell him about what progress they've made. Gropper has said he will decide after that meeting if Northwest can throw out its contracts with the two unions, which would allow the airline to impose its pay and work rule demands.

The unions have warned they may strike if that happens. But no strike could happen before Tuesday, when pilots finish their strike authorization vote.

Both unions said talks may continue Thursday night and Friday morning in New York. The schedule has been intense, with flight attendant talks lasting until 4 a.m. Thursday and resuming again later in the morning, said union spokesman Peter Fiske.

Negotiators have agreed to a framework that would let Northwest add regional flying within the company rather than shifting it to a subsidiary, Chief Executive Doug Steenland told the Star Tribune in an interview published Thursday. That issue had been a key sticking point with the Air Line Pilots Association.

The airline declined to make Steenland available to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Northwest has wanted to figure out who will fly whatever jet replaces its aging DC-9s, which carry roughly 100 passengers and are ideal for many of Northwest's small markets.

Steenland told the newspaper that the framework for a deal "addresses the pilots' concerns over jobs, outsourcing and making sure that the replacement aircraft for the DC-9 gets flown (by Northwest pilots), and that represents significant progress."

The "lions share" of job-protection issues have been resolved, including saving pilot jobs in the event of a merger, the sale of part of Northwest's business or code-sharing arrangements with other airlines, he said.

Northwest ALPA Chairman Mark McClain said the framework keeps all flying of jets with 76 to 100 seats with Northwest and provides a way for some flying of smaller jets to be done by non-Northwest pilots.

Speaking just before Northwest pilots rallied in St. Paul, McClain said other issues still remain, and the two sides aren't as close to a deal as Steenland suggested.

Examples of outstanding issues include whether pilots will own some of the airline after it emerges from bankruptcy, whether they'll get full pay for sick days, and retirement benefits.

Pilots have already taken an overall 39 percent pay cut since 2004.

Meanwhile, the flight attendant's own strike vote runs through March 6.

The airline angered flight attendants with its proposal to hire more non-U.S. - and non-union - flight attendants for its overseas flights.

Fiske said Thursday that Northwest has backed off from its earlier demand that three-quarters of the flight-attendants on overseas flights are non-U.S. workers. The carrier now wants 20 percent to 30 percent of the flight attendants on overseas flights to be non-U.S. workers, he said, adding that is still too much for the union.

Fiske didn't give a number that the union could accept.

"We're not going to give up anything without getting something in return," he said.


Northwest Airlines:

Professional Flight Attendants Association:

Northwest Airlines Airline Pilots Association:


Joshua Freed can be reached at jfreed(at)

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