MINNEAPOLIS -- Representatives of Northwest Airlines and its mechanics union will return to Washington to meet with federal mediators March 7, just five days before the union would be free to strike.
Jim Armshaw, spokesman for the National Mediation Board, said the airline and the union were notified Thursday afternoon that they should resume talks. Representatives of both sides said they would comply.
The union had asked the board Feb. 16 to restart negotiations in hopes of averting a strike.
The 30-day countdown to a strike began Feb. 10 after the board released both parties from the mediation process. The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association plans a strike authorization vote March 2 and would be free to strike at 12:01 a.m. EST March 12.
Since the countdown started, AMFA repeatedly had asked Northwest to resume talks without a mediator, but the airline had said it would go back to the table only when called by the mediation board.
When the most recent talks ended, Northwest reported the sides were $2.5 billion apart on a three-year contract proposal. AMFA calculated the difference at less than $1.2 billion.
"We're hopeful and optimistic this action indicates we can finally bring some closure to this process," said O.V. Delle-Femine, AMFA national director. "AMFA remains confident that resuming negotiations will result in successful closure on the remaining issues."
Northwest President Doug Steenland also expressed optimism.
"We will participate in these sessions; hopefully they will result in a fair and equitable agreement with AMFA," Steenland said.
On Tuesday, Steenland had told analysts that management expected to return to the bargaining table soon under the auspices of the board.
"We will be doing our utmost and our reasonable best to try to reach resolution and have a negotiated contract at the bargaining table with AMFA during the period of time," Steenland said.
Steve MacFarlane, president of AMFA Local 33, revealed Thursday that Delle-Femine had faxed a letter to NMB Chairman Francis Duggan Feb. 16 asking the board to reconvene negotiations.
Copies of the letter were sent to the White House chief of staff, the secretaries of transportation and labor, and Northwest executives Steenland and Robert Brodin, MacFarlane said.
"We are committed to using the remaining 18 days of the cooling-off period to try and avert a strike," MacFarlane said.
Steenland was elevated to president of Eagan-based Northwest on Monday, at the same time the airline announced that Richard Anderson would succeed John Dasburg as chief executive. Dasburg is leaving to head Burger King Corp.
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