BLOOMINGTON (AP) -- Leaders of the mechanics union at Northwest Airlines cried foul this weekend over their treatment by the National Mediation Board and vowed to prepare for a strike regardless of President Bush's intent to stop one.
Mediators oversaw more than 100 days of negotiations but decided the talks between Northwest and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association were deadlocked. The two sides were about $2 billion to $2.5 billion apart on issues of wages, retroactive pay and pensions.
The board released the parties from the talks late Friday, starting a 30-day cooling-off period, and recommended that Bush take the unusual step of appointing a Presidential Emergency Board to prevent a strike and study the dispute.
Hours later, President Bush said he'd do just that if Northwest and AMFA don't settle by 12:01 p.m. EST March 12.
By appointing an emergency board, the president would push the union's first chance to strike back to mid-May. In the meantime, the board would have 60 days to negotiate a settlement and could even send its proposal to Congress for a vote.
AMFA leaders claim federal mediators told their negotiating team that the release carried no recommendation that Bush intervene in the dispute, a scenario that would have given AMFA the right to strike after the 30-day cooling off period expired. That would have increased the negotiating pressure on Northwest.
Steve MacFarlane, president of AMFA Local 33, found out that the mediators had, in fact, recommended an emergency board by reading it on the Internet. AMFA received no notification of the mediation board's recommendation, he said.
AMFA -- which represents nearly 10,000 mechanics, cleaners and custodians at Northwest -- will treat Bush's statement as a bluff and continue its strike preparations, MacFarlane said.
The union is coordinating its strike vote and strike committee, and intends to picket at airports around the nation and organize a march on the National Mediation Board's Washington, D.C., offices in mid-March.
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