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Northwest pilot union takes neutral stance on tentative agreement

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Leaders of the pilot union voted Friday to take a neutral stance on the tentative agreement reached with Northwest Airlines Corp., throwing doubt on the chances that the union's showdown with the airline will end soon.

A resolution passed by the NWA Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association said pilots will have to weigh the potential risks and benefits of accepting the cutbacks, but the council's officers can voice their own opinions while presenting the proposal to pilots.

Balloting on the tentative agreement will run from April 6 to April 30.

Leaders of the pilot union have been divided over whether to endorse the pact, although Mark McClain, chairman of the union's leadership council, has told pilots he thinks they should vote in favor of it.

``While this tentative agreement will bring hardship to pilots and their families, there are no reasonable alternatives,'' he wrote in a message to members earlier this month.

Negotiators for Northwest and the pilot union reached the tentative agreement on March 3, ending a showdown that had threatened to turn into a strike.

Northwest has also reached tentative agreements with flight attendants and ground workers. But getting the deals approved by the rank-and-file has been tough. Northwest's ticket and reservations agents ratified their contract, but baggage handlers and ramp workers rejected theirs, prompting Northwest to say it will restart the process to have that contract thrown out.

Leaders of the flight attendants union are making no recommendation to members, who are expected to begin voting on their agreement later this month, spokeswoman Karen Schultz said on Friday.

All of the contracts include pay cuts ranging from 11.5 percent for ground workers to 24 percent for pilots. Pilots also took a 15 percent pay cut in late 2004.

Just as importantly, they include major work rule changes. For pilots, that includes allowing Northwest to open a subsidiary to fly jets with up to 76 seats.
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