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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, May 26, 2005

Northwest to recall 691 flight attendants

Advertiser News Services

MINNEAPOLIS — Northwest Airlines Corp., which is seeking concessions from its employees, plans to recall all of its 691 laid-off flight attendants because of summer travel demand and possible labor strife, the attendants' union said.

The Professional Flight Attendants Association expects more than half of the workers to return to the airline, union spokesman Bob Krabbe said yesterday. Some of the attendants have been on furlough since October 2001 and may stay in other jobs, he said. The union has about 8,500 members now working at Eagan, Minnesota-based Northwest.

Northwest, the fourth-largest U.S. carrier, is in talks with most of its unions in an effort to reach new contracts that will reduce costs through pay and benefit reductions. The pilots union is the only worker group that has contributed to Northwest's goal to cut annual labor expenses by $1.1 billion.

The company is doing the recall partly to prepare for "an expected contentious summer with labor negotiations," the union said in a statement. Krabbe said tension in Northwest's talks with its mechanics could lead to flight disruptions, causing a need for more attendants. Northwest didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Northwest officials said talks with mechanics are at an impasse and they are asking a federal mediator to release the company from negotiations. If the mediator agrees, the next step would be arbitration or a possible strike.

Northwest made the statements in a letter to the National Mediation Board, which the mechanics union shared with The Associated Press. Also yesterday, the flight attendants union said Northwest will recall all 691 of its laid-off members over the summer.

Northwest and the mechanics have been negotiating since October, and a mediator has been involved since the beginning of this year.

The mechanics have until June 8 to respond to Northwest's request to release them from mediation. Arbitration would be next, but either side can refuse. That would prompt a 30-day cooling-off period. After that, the mechanics could strike.

Mechanics have not decided whether they want arbitration, said Jeff Mathews, contract coordinator and negotiations spokesman for the Aircraft Fraternal Mechanics Association.

Faced with massive losses — $458 million in the last quarter alone — Eagan-based Northwest has been seeking to cut mechanics pay by around 25 percent and lay off nearly half of them. Northwest pilots agreed to concessions last fall, but its other unions have resisted.