Northwest, mechanics continue talks as strike deadline looms
MINNEAPOLIS – With a midnight strike deadline creeping closer, Northwest Airlines and its mechanics kept talking even as the union said little progress was being made.Northwest, which says it is losing about $4 million a day, wants its mechanics, cleaners and custodians to take a 25 percent pay cut. It also wants the right to lay off another 2,000 so it can send more of their work to outside vendors. Northwest has already slashed their ranks from 8,390 in 2002 to 4,427 now.Northwest has said it needs $176 million worth of savings from mechanics as part of $1.1 billion in annual savings from all its employees. It said it made its “last, best” offer on Thursday night, though it wouldn’t give details. The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association said the offer wasn’t good enough.”I’m absolutely convinced that the proposal that they made last night moved inches, where yards need to be advanced,” said AMFA Assistant National Director Steve MacFarlane on Friday.”We’re still talking. I don’t know if we’ll reach an agreement, but we’re still talking,” said AMFA National Director O.V. Delle-Femine.Northwest has vowed to keep flying if there’s a strike. It has lined up 1,900 temporary workers, vendors, and managers, including hundreds of licensed mechanics, to take over if a strike begins after 12:01 a.m. EDT on Saturday.Mechanics union leaders have predicted that a strike will seriously disrupt the airline.A huge question for both sides was whether other Northwest unions would cross a mechanics picket line. Only the flight attendants appeared to be seriously considering a sympathy strike – and Northwest said it had replacement workers for some of them, too. A flight attendant vote on whether to strike was scheduled to end one minute before the mechanic strike deadline.Ground workers and pilots didn’t say whether they would cross a picket line, but they had been considered unlikely to. They said they would announce their position after a mechanic’s strike begins.On Friday afternoon, a federal judge barred mechanics at Northwest regional carrier Mesaba Airlines from staging a sympathy strike. Those mechanics are represented by the same AMFA locals that represent Northwest mechanics at hubs in Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis.On Thursday, the union local that represents 2,700 Northwest ground workers in Detroit said it would not honor a mechanic picket line.Relations between the two unions have been poor. The Machinists used to represent nearly all Northwest ground workers, including mechanics. But in 1998, the mechanics, custodians and cleaners voted to break away and join AMFA.A mechanics strike at Northwest would be the first major airline strike since Northwest pilots grounded the airline for 20 days in 1998. AMFA has struck only four times in its history, most recently in 1980.Shares of Northwest fell 10 cents to close at $5.38 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock had surged 10 percent on Thursday after investor Philip B. Korsant disclosed he had bought a 6 percent stake in the company. The stock had gained 38 percent since Monday.Vail – Colorado
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