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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Northwest workers vote down contract

By Marilyn Adams
USA Today

Northwest Airlines flight attendants yesterday rejected a proposed pay cut to help the troubled airline, setting the stage for a possible strike during the busy summer travel season.

Some 80 percent of about 6,500 who voted opposed the new labor contract. It called for a 21 percent pay cut and would save the airline $195 million a year as part of its restructuring under bankruptcy-court protection.

"The company went too far," union president Guy Meek said after the vote was announced.

Northwest went to court this year seeking the right under federal bankruptcy law to unilaterally impose pay cuts. The union argued that Northwest didn't have the legal right. Before the judge ruled on the request, negotiators for both sides reached a tentative agreement on the concessions that now have been rejected by union membership. Meek said if Northwest now imposes new terms, flight attendants will strike.

Airline management, after the vote was announced, called on the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case to allow it to impose pay cuts. Northwest also asked the judge to block a possible strike, calling it illegal.

"We are taking this action to reassure our customers that they can continue to book Northwest with confidence," the airline said in a statement.

The union the Professional Flight Attendants Association urged the judge to deny Northwest's request and said it will try to renegotiate a better deal.

Minnesota-based Northwest, the fifth-biggest U.S. airline, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last September. Northwest has posted net losses totaling $4.5 billion since the beginning of 2004. It hopes to exit bankruptcy by the end of 2007 with $1.4 billion a year in annual labor cost savings.

But labor-management relations remain an obstacle. Last summer, Northwest weathered a strike by its aircraft mechanics, eventually replacing the strikers. Northwest baggage handlers, ramp workers and others represented by the International Association of Machinists are voting on a proposed 11.5 percent pay cut. The result will be announced tomorrow.

Members of that union rejected a previous cost-cutting contract deal. Union leaders have recommended approval of the new one. Last month, Northwest's pilots voted to approve a 24 percent pay cut, but that can take effect only if all the other unions also accept concessions.