- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Northwest Airlines met again with striking mechanics yesterday, but the airline’s call for steeper cuts than those that had prompted their walkout made the prospect of a deal uncertain.

“I hope they go into bankruptcy — I’ve got nothing to lose,” said Dave Kowalkowski, a mechanic who has worked for the airline for 26 years. “I’d rather deal with a bankruptcy judge.”

David Benedict, who worked as a mechanic for 18 years in Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta, said he thought the meetings yesterday were just another step toward bankruptcy.

“They’re negotiating again, just so they can go to a bankruptcy judge and say, ‘We made them a final offer.’ So they can save face,” he said.

Union contract coordinator Jeff Mathews told reporters gathered at the downtown Minneapolis hotel where talks were held that the two sides met for about a half-hour yesterday.

Mr. Mathews said the union wanted the airline to put details of the discussions in writing. He did not disclose their content. He said the union will evaluate the talks after viewing the details in writing.

Negotiators for Northwest Airlines Corp. did not comment on the talks.

The strike entered it 20th day yesterday, and several of the off-the-job mechanics have already started looking for their next job.

David Pounds, a 22-year mechanic, said he was thinking of changing careers, maybe selling cars. He’s had job interviews, but hasn’t had any offers.

“People are reluctant to hire a guy on strike,” he said.

He has also had trouble finding a job that pays as much. Union mechanics made $70,000 a year on average. “The last company I interviewed with, the compensation was a joke,” Mr. Pounds said.

Northwest’s 4,427 mechanics, cleaners and custodians walked out Aug. 20 rather than accept 25 percent pay cuts and layoffs of some 2,000 workers. The airline has told the union that it would begin hiring permanent replacements by Sept. 13 if they didn’t make a deal.

Todd Henshaw, an 18-year mechanic, knows his job would be cut under the proposal.

“I already know I’m gone. I’m hoping they will give a living wage to those who are left,” he said of the negotiations.

In a letter to the union that was made public Wednesday, Julie Hagen Showers, Northwest’s vice president for labor relations, wrote, “Our last best offer which was presented to you on August 18 was based on economic circumstances that no longer exist today.”

She said the company had been prepared to honor that offer, but its finances had deteriorated since then and “unfortunately we are no longer able to do so.”

The letter repeated the airline’s claims that fuel costs are expected to rise to $3.3 billion, up 50 percent from $2.2 billion last year. It said it will probably need labor savings above the $1.1 billion it had previously sought.

Shares of Northwest rose 15 cents to close at $3.52 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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