Northwest Airlines employees gave a small sigh of relief after the specter of a pilots strike and possible shutdown of the airline was lifted Friday.
But with three tentative contracts up in the air, workers who already have endured agonizing layoffs and cuts in wages and benefits weren't exactly popping open the champagne.
Doug Weiler, 57, a pilot who lives in Hudson, Wis., learned of the settlement during a layover in Vail, Colo., when he called the union hotline. "I think we had to make that stand as far as tentatively going on strike, but I think everyone is relieved."
Weiler, who has been a professional pilot for 30 years -- 12 of them for Northwest, said he saw his annual pay slashed from $135,000 to $85,000 as the airline wrestled a combination of permanent cuts and temporary pay cuts from the pilots in bankruptcy court. Weiler hopes the new contract will be no worse.
"We've been living day-to-day up to this point," he said. "I hope we can go forward and get Northwest back on track."
Flight attendant Jacob Easter, who transferred from the Twin Cities to Boston last fall, had been furiously checking the pilots union Web page all week, waiting for word of whether a strike would come.
"It was getting down to crunch time and it didn't seem like there would be any movement," said Easter, who has worked at Northwest for more than six years. "I'm very relieved for all of the employees, but especially for the pilots."
Though Northwest and the flight attendants union reached a tentative settlement earlier this week, Easter has not yet heard the details.
The temporary pay cuts have been a hard pill to swallow for everyone, he said. His own annual pay dropped about $5,000, to $25,000. He said passengers have been understanding and "almost sympathetic."
For Jerry Sowells, a Northwest mechanic who crossed the picket line a few months after his union went on strike in August, word of the temporary agreement Friday was met with caution.
"We're not out of the woods yet," he said. "Three contract agreements have to be ratified."
Sowells, 50, who lives in Eagan, Minn., has been with Northwest for 25 years. He figured that the pilots would somehow settle because they have a lot to lose. "Labor peace will increase Northwest's chances of obtaining financing and emerging from bankruptcy. I'm not sure we've got it yet."
The thought of the other unions voting down the tentative contracts makes Sowells uneasy. Maybe for good reason. The ground workers union hopes to announce the results of a ratification vote by the end of next week. Larry Prescott for one, voted no. Prescott, a baggage handler, has worked for Northwest for 26 years.
The contract he voted on would cut his pay and benefits but also offer no job security. "I work for the paying passenger," said Prescott, 46, of Lakeville, Minn. "My work ethic will push me through to do a decent job for them."
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