NORTHWEST Airlines mechanics easily approve new contract

Wednesday, May 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROMULUS, Mich. (AP) _ Mechanics and cleaners at Northwest Airlines easily approved a contract proposal reached after more than four years of negotiations and a near-walkout.

The contract would make Northwest's mechanics the industry's highest-paid, raising their pay by an average of 24.4 percent. The pay of cleaners and custodians, who make up a tiny part of the union, would rise an average of 13 percent.

The four-year contract will be signed Friday at Northwest's headuarters in Eagan, Minn., and takes effect Saturday.

``We're happy and relieved. It's been a long time,'' O.V. Delle-Femine, national director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, said Wednesday at a news conference at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. ``This is an industry-changing contract.''

Delle-Femine said the contract would likely result in a ticket-price increase of less than 5 percent, ``which we think is nominal for this contract.''

William Ward Sr., 47, an airline mechanic for 17 years, voted for the contract, perhaps reluctantly.

``I feel there was a lot more we could have gotten out of it,'' said Ward, who is based at Northwest's Detroit Metro hub. ``I'm already looking forward to the next negotiations. There are still issues that have to be resolved.''

Eighty-two percent of union members voted to approve the contract, according to Jim Atkinson, a spokesman for the union local in Bloomington, Minn. About 94 percent of 9,333 eligible members voted.

Mechanics had been poised to strike this spring and shut down the nation's fourth-largest airline before President Bush ordered a cooling-off period, saying he was concerned about a shutdown's effect on the national economy. Northwest offered the latest contract proposal before the cooling-off period expired.

Under the new contract, mechanics will more than double their pension, to $85 per month per year of service. For cleaners and custodians, the pension rate increases to $51, from $27.77.

The contract also includes job protections, including caps on how much work Northwest can send out to third-party vendors.

The contract gives workers a lump-sum payment equal to 3.5 percent of their wages since the October 1996 renewal date of the last contract. The union had wanted initial raises applied retroactively to the renewal date.

For an average mechanic, the retroactive pay will be about $10,000. For the average cleaner, the lump sum will be $6,603.