- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

The mechanics union at Northwest Airlines said last night the company’s final offer “leaves us with little hope of reaching a deal” before tomorrow’s strike deadline.

One union official said that the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association may not participate in negotiations today.

“If this is their last best offer, there may be no reason to meet,” said Steve MacFarlane, the assistant national director of the union.

Northwest Airlines Corp. had said earlier a proposal from its mechanics union falls short of the concessions the airline needs to avoid bankruptcy.

Failure by the airline and the labor negotiators to reach an agreement on the contract for the 4,430-member union of mechanics, custodians and cleaners means the union could strike at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

It would be the first major airline strike in seven years. The airline flies from all three Washington-area airports.

An offer submitted by the mechanics late Wednesday would save the nation’s fourth-largest carrier $100 million annually, according to the company’s own accounting, but Northwest has asked the union to agree to $176 million in annual cuts.

“It appears to fall far short of the $176 million in annual cost savings that the company needs,” Northwest said.

Union officials disagreed with the company’s characterization of their offer and countered that its offer would save Northwest all the money it wants to save.

Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch declined to discuss the union’s proposal.

Labor and management negotiators began last-ditch efforts Monday to reach an agreement on cutting costs.

Bob Rose, president of AMFA Local 5 in Detroit, said workers are bracing for a strike.

“We’ve been telling people for a year to get their finances in order. We could see a battle coming,” said Mr. Rose, whose union represents 800 mechanics, custodians and cleaners in Detroit.

Despite the failure of the two sides to reach an agreement on major economic issues, it is encouraging that the two sides continue to talk, said Mike Boyd, president of the Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm in Evergreen, Colo.

“Proposals are going back and forth. That’s a good sign,” Mr. Boyd said.

The mechanics and custodians union on Wednesday said Northwest continued to push for elimination of 789 airplane cleaner jobs. Northwest wants to outsource most of the jobs. Other job cuts Northwest wants to make would reduce the number of union jobs within AMFA to 2,450.

Remaining mechanics would have their pay cut by 26 percent, under the company’s proposal.

Northwest negotiators told the union there is no way to salvage the airplane cleaner jobs, and it proposed a severance package for the workers on Wednesday that the union considers unacceptable.

Northwest wants to reduce labor costs by $1.1 billion annually to avoid bankruptcy. The airline posted a $755 million net loss through June.

A strike by mechanics and cleaners isn’t expected to ground Northwest, and the airline said last week it will continue flying even if the union walks out.

The company recruited and trained 1,200 replacement workers and 300 managers to step in. Northwest has another 400 mechanics available at third-party vendors.

“This is serious. It’s no joke when management hires replacement workers,” Mr. Boyd said.

A strike would take on much greater significance if Northwest’s pilots and flight attendants honor the picket line. Flight attendants are taking a strike authorization vote now and plan to reveal the results tomorrow.

Leaders of the pilots union intend to meet today to determine whether they will honor the picket line. If mechanics go on strike, the pilots union will outline its strategy.

Northwest is the only major airline to have not won concessions from most of its unions.

Its pilots took a 15 percent pay cut in December, approving contract changes that will save the airline $265 million a year. Northwest wants another $307 million in pilot concessions, and the union is looking at its contract for ways to cut more costs.

Northwest wants $143 million in annual cuts from the Professional Flight Attendants Association and $110 million in annual cuts from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents some mechanics at the airline.

Management employees took a 15 percent pay cut to save another $30 million annually.

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