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Northwest Requests Mediation in Pilots’ Dispute

November 11, 1988

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Northwest Airlines on Thursday requested federal mediation of its contract dispute with 4,800 union pilots, indefinitely nullifying the possibility of a strike.

Members of the Air Line Pilots Association were voting Thursday on whether to ratify a strike deadline of midnight Friday, but because strikes are illegal during mediation there will be no walkout, according to union spokesman Tim Barzen.

″The threat of a strike technically is considered to be over up there at Northwest,″ said Charles Barnes, executive director of the National Mediation Board in Washington, D.C. ″We intend to schedule mediation sessions at an early date. As soon as we get someone available.″

The union’s Master Executive Council set the strike deadline after talks between the carrier and pilots reached an impasse Nov. 1. Results of the balloting, which began Monday, were to be disclosed Friday.

″We hope that management’s decision to apply for mediation is a signal that they are finally willing to engage in constructive negotiations,″ said Jim Halverson, co-chairman of the Northwest Pilots Strike Committee.

Under mediation, wages and work rules remain unchanged. Mediators will work the case until there is a contract settlement or an impasse, at which point the board will offer arbitration. If either side rejects the offer, there would be a 30-day cooling off period before Northwest could impose a contract or the union could strike, Barnes said.

The parties are deadlocked over wages, work rules and fringe benefits.

Union spokesman Pete Quortrup said negotiators still disagree on more than 100 issues, some of them resembling issues that divided Northwest and its mechanics’ and flight attendants’ unions, which settled post-merger contracts last spring.

Pilots are flying under two contracts - one covering 2,000 pilots who flew for Republic Airlines before its 1986 merger with Northwest, the other covering 2,800 pilots who flew for Northwest or have been hired since the merger. Both sides have submitted to an arbitrator the issue of merging the seniority list.

In a statement issued Thursday, NWA Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Steven Rothmeier said the overall dispute can’t be settled until the pilots formulate a proposal on the seniority list. But Jim Shaner, a union spokesman, said both sides have presented their case to the arbitrator and are awaiting a ruling.

Rothmeier stated that the pilots seek an immediate pay increase of up to 46 percent, rising to 55 percent by July 1, 1989. That and other union demands would add $200 million to the company’s annual costs, or $1 billion over the next four years, Rothmeier said.

Shaner and union spokesman Andy Murphy disputed the figures. Murphy said pilots are looking for 6 percent pay increases for 1987, 1988 and 1989.

Rothmeier said Northwest is offering pay increases averaging 5 percent, with individual increases of up to 34 percent. The company also has offered equalization in pay, benefits and work rules; protection from layoffs and possible profit sharing, he said.

But Halverson said the company is asking for concessions typical of what a failing airline would ask for. He also said Northwest had never mentioned profit sharing until Rothmeier issued his statement Thursday.

Redmond Tyler, a Northwest spokesman, said the threat of a strike did not appear to affect ticketing for flights over the weekend.

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