Northwest, union reach tentative agreement


Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Northwest Airlines mechanics will have the chance to ratify a contract that would make them the highest paid in the industry, but years of labor acrimony at the carrier could scuttle the deal.

Early Monday morning, Northwest Airlines struck a tentative deal that would raise its mechanics' pay an average of 24.4 percent.

Mechanics would get an average of $10,000 in retroactive pay under the proposed contract, which would end a 4 1/2 year-stalemate if ratified by union members.

The mechanics would also get a one-time pay adjustment of $3,750. The retroactive pay raise covers the time since their last contract expired in October 1996. At 3 1/2 percent, retroactive pay could balloon to $21,929 for a mechanic with considerable overtime, according to figures posted on the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association's Web site.

Steve MacFarlane, president of Twin Cities-based Local 33, said union members are happy, but leery, of the tentative agreement. ``At this point, people are rather pensive. They've been down this road before,'' MacFarlane said.

MacFarlane said union members would be briefed on the details of the package over the next two weeks in preparation for a ratification vote that wasn't immediately scheduled.

Steve Sutherland, an inspector at Northwest, wasn't sure the workers would vote for the contract. ``From the response today, I can't tell you whether it's going to be ratified or shot down,'' he said.

Robert Bergren, a Northwest mechanic, said, ``It isn't enough.''

Mechanic Charlie Bryan wanted bigger raises and retro checks of around $28,000 each. ``The group in my line area will vote `no' for anything less,'' he said. ``We are ready to strike.''

But other mechanics are eager approve the deal.

``I thought Northwest's first offer wasn't so bad _ I wanted to at least take a vote on it,'' said Daniel Rarick, who works on engines for the carrier. ``I was happy with it _ I think we make a decent wage.''

Mechanic Bill Reis, who stands to see a hefty check if the deal is ratified because he works plenty of overtime, said the numbers ``seemed pretty good.''

For cleaners and custodians, the proposed contract includes a 13 percent wage increase, one-time pay adjustment of $1,875, and a 3 1/2 percent retroactive pay raise _ averaging $6,603.

Overall, Northwest would pay $88 million in back pay, according to the AMFA Web site. AMFA represents about 9,500 Northwest mechanics, cleaners and custodians.

Richard Anderson, Northwest's recently appointed chief executive, said he was optimistic that AMFA members would ratify the contract. ``Passengers can book on Northwest with confidence,'' Anderson said.

Terry Trippler, an airline expert with OneTravel.com, said the agreement came at an ideal time for Northwest.

``They put it to bed. They put the labor problems to bed,'' Trippler said. ``It's very important to people planning their summer travel right now. It tells them that they can book travel and they will get there.''

The Northwest agreement puts pressure on the other airlines to reach agreements that will give consumers trouble-free travel this summer, Trippler said.

At Delta Air Lines, pilots are free to strike April 29 unless federal mediators ask President Bush to step in.

United Airlines' 26,000 flight attendants have voted overwhelmingly to authorize periodic strikes if its proposed acquisition of US Airways goes through next month. United already has gone to court to stop job actions by its mechanics, whose contract talks with the airline remain deadlocked after 15 months.

And leaders of American Airlines' three unions are withholding support for the purchase of Trans World Airline's assets to American Airlines' parent company because they fear the difficulty of absorbing TWA's workers could cause turmoil.

The agreement was reached just before an emergency board appointed by President Bush was to report on the impasse. The board had the power to recommend a settlement that eventually could have been imposed by Congress.