July 21, 2005 – Responding to a company refusal to enter into binding arbitration to resolve stalled contract talks, over 90 percent of the unionized mechanics, cleaners and custodians with Northwest Airlines authorized a strike in a vote taken earlier this week, their union announced Tuesday.
Workers were freed from legal restrictions on striking yesterday, after the National Mediation Board (NMB), which had been working with both sides to reach an acceptable resolution, officially released Northwest and Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) from negotiations. The decision came after airline officials declined to enter binding arbitration, according to a letter from Northwest to the NMB.
Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the White House is keeping an eye on the situation and could legally intervene, as President George W. Bush did in 2001, when an emergency board appointed by the President pushed Northwest and its workers back to the negotiating table.
Reportedly, Northwest officials expect to return to the negotiating table, though the airline is preparing for a strike by training contract workers. Reuters reports that an official Northwest statement notes the company sought an end to mediation in order to force a deadline on the union.
The two sides have been in negotiations since last year, and Northwest has already laid off over 700 workers as a result of severe budget problems, according to news accounts and union information. The contract between the two ended last October.
According to Marketwatch, Northwest is seeking $176 million in annual labor cost savings from AMFA members, $36 million more than the union last offered. The union offer amounts to a 16 percent pay cut, according to an AMFA statement.
The AMFA represents 5,400 mechanics, cleaners and custodians working for Northwest Airlines and considers itself the largest single union in the airline industry.
The last major airline strike came in 1998, when pilots with Northwest walked off the job, according to an NMB timeline. Workers with a Delta subsidiary struck in 2001.