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Old 08-09-2005, 09:30 PM   #1  
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Default NWA, mechs back to table on Monday

N'west, union agree to talks

Federal mediators prod both sides to resume stalled negotiations on cost-cutting proposal.

By Joel J. Smith / The Detroit News

At the urging of federal mediators, Northwest Airlines Corp. and its mechanics union agreed Tuesday to resume negotiations next week to possibly head off a potential strike on Aug. 20.

Both sides quickly accepted the National Mediation Board's suggestion to meet in Washington, D.C. on Monday. It'll be the first bargaining session since the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association walked away from the talks on Aug. 3, saying Northwest's latest proposal didn't include significant changes from an earlier one.

Negotiators will have five days to reach an agreement before the mediation board's 30-day cooling off period expires at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 20. At that point, the mechanics will be free to strike or Northwest can implement its last best offer and hire replacement workers.

"We will be there," said Bob Rose, president of AMFA Local 5 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport which represents 900 Northwest mechanics and aircraft cleaners in Michigan. "But I don't see Northwest's position changing at all. If they don't come to negotiate, it will be up to our bargaining team whether or not to stay at the table."

Northwest, Michigan's largest carrier, has been demanding $176 million in concessions from the mechanics union and wants to eliminate more than half of its 5,500 jobs with the airline. Rose and other union officials say they're willing to take a 16.1 percent pay cut, but want job guarantees for union members.

Officials at Northwest, with its largest hub at Detroit Metro with 600 daily departures, contend they need 25 percent pay cuts and job reductions from the mechanics to help avoid bankruptcy.

But Northwest said Tuesday that it's willing to return to the bargaining table.

"Northwest Airlines is pleased the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association has agreed to continue National Mediation Board hosted negotiations," the carrier said Tuesday in a statement. "Northwest wants to meet a consensual agreement in advance of the Aug. 20 deadline that provides wage and benefit levels that are fair to AMFA's employees while allowing Northwest to stem its record operating losses."

Also Tuesday, Northwest's flight attendant union said that it's conducting a vote of its 9,500 members over the next 10 days to determine if they should strike in support of the mechanics if there's a walkout.

Members of the Professional Flight Attendants Association must approve any strike action.

"Now is the time for solidarity among all employees of Northwest Airlines," said Bob Krabbe, PFAA's assistant contract administrator. "The company is not negotiating, it's dictating. Management's stubborn stance only illustrates their determination to bust not only the AMFA but all the other unions as well."

In anticipation of the move by the flight attendants, Northwest has been advertising for replacement attendants in major markets across the country, including Detroit. It's been training new flight attendants to replace any current workers that refuse to report to work.

Late Tuesday, Northwest responded that its PFAA agreement doesn't permit a "sympathy strike" by the flight attendants and that it expects them to work regardless of the outcome of its negotiations with the mechanics.

Northwest wants to cut labor costs as it tries to restore profits. The nation's fourth largest carrier has lost $3.6 billion since 2001, with nearly $700 million coming in 2005. Northwest has said it needs $1.1 billion in concessions from its 39,000 employees to avoid Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

So far, Northwest's 5,500 pilots have agreed to $265 millions in givebacks and its 4,000-member non-union work force has agreed to $35 million in cuts.

The mechanics' union has been the most militant at the bargaining table so far, vowing to fight any job reductions even if it means striking.

Northwest has spent $20 million in the second quarter training 1,000 replacement mechanics in the event of a strike. Airline officials promise to continue operating all of their flights in the event of a strike, but union leaders doubt they can pull that off.
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