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Northwest and Mechanics Agree to Terms
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
April 9, 2001

Northwest Airlines and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association have reached a tentative contract agreement. The breakthrough in the four-and-a-half-year-old dispute came after two days of meetings in Washington, D.C.

With a tentative agreement in place between Northwest Airlines and the mechanics union, the airline brings to an end more than four years of labor unrest.
(Photo courtesy of Northwest Airlines)
STANDING OUTSIDE THE NATIONAL MEDIATION BOARD'S downtown Washington, D.C. offices early Monday morning, AMFA National Director O.V. Delle Femine says the union feels good about the details of the agreement, which it will soon disclose to the membership.

"Both sides should be congratulated. We wanted to get this thing accomplished. It's amazing - that's why you have negotiations. You can go for months at a time, and all of a suddent in a couple of hours it just falls into place," says Delle Femine.

Neither the union nor Northwest Airlines will disclose any specifics of the agreement, which came two days before a Presidential Emergency Board was set to make its own settlement recommendation to President Bush. The PEB process in now on hold, pending ratification of the deal.

Northwest CEO Richard Anderson said with the tentative agreement, Northwest customers can continue flying the airline without a fear of disruption in service.

"We had a lot of hard work on the part of the negotiators representing NWA and AMFA. We're pleased that through collaborative effort and the efforts of the National Mediation Board, we were able to reach an agreement," says Anderson.


Northwest and its mechanics have been locked in a contract battle for more than four and a half years. Like other worker groups at the airline, the mechanics - who took pay cuts in the mid-1990s to help save Northwest from bankruptcy - were demanding signficant wage increases.

In the summer of 1998, rank-and-file mechanics voted down a tentative agreement the International Association of Machinists negotiated for them. That rejected contract would have given them about a 14 percent pay increase over four years. Following that first failed tenative agreement, the mechanics voted to leave the IAM for AMFA, by comparision a tiny craft union.

AMFA negotiators intitially sought a 100 percent wage increase. Their last formal demand called for a nearly 40 percent wage hike. The airline had last offered about half that.

Throughout the protracted talks, Northwest has been relatively silent, apart from repeatedly accusing the mechanics of staging protest work slowdowns, aimed at disrupting its flight schedule. The rare times the airline has publicly spoken about contract details, it has harshly criticized the union's positioning. Former CEO John Dasburg, who convinced union leaders pay cuts were necessary almost a decade ago, more recently referred to AMFA contract demands as bizarre. Early last month, the airline said if it went along with what the mechanics were asking for, Northwest would be driven into bankruptcy.


If the union members ratify the tentative agreement, it will mark an end to a bitterly divisive period in Northwest labor relations. The same basic areas of contention in the battle between the airline and the mechanics union led to the pilots' strike in 1998. According to numerous statements by Northwest management, they were also behind a variety of efforts over the past several years to disrupt Northwest's flight schedule.

Union leaders will provide the rank-and-file with copies of the entire tentative agreement as soon as the printing is completed. The members will then have two weeks to review the contract before voting. That process should be completed by early May.