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Northwest Airlines Mechanics Call Strike
Vote for March 2

By Karren Mills   Associated Press
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MINNEAPOLIS — The union representing Northwest Airlines mechanics, cleaners and custodians asked airline executives to return to the bargaining table on Monday, but told workers to prepare for a strike vote early next month.

Northwest showed no sign of changing its position that it won't negotiate unless asked to do so by federal mediators.

Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association leaders said late Monday that a strike authorization vote will be held on March 2, with a strike possible as soon as March 12, the end of a 30-day cooling-off period that began Saturday, Steve MacFarlane, president of Local 33, said.

The National Mediation Board declared talks between AMFA and Northwest at an impasse on Friday after nearly 100 days of mediation and began the 30-day countdown on Saturday. The two sides were about $2 billion to $2.5 billion apart on wages, retroactive pay and pensions.

However, the board angered AMFA by encouraging President Bush to consider naming an emergency board, a fact-finding panel that would make settlement recommendations. Bush said he would do that if no agreement is reached by March 12 — delaying any work action for another 60 days.

"The president has the ability to twist everybody's arms some more, which could produce a settlement. But it doesn't guarantee one," said airline analyst Bradley Bartholomew, owner of The Newfoundland Group.

AMFA leaders criticized the president for making his intentions known before the cooling-off period had expired, saying the government was dictating the collective bargaining process.

"This has serious implications for not only AMFA, but all airline unions negotiating at this time. Even the threat of a presidential emergency board could force these other unions to accept substandard contracts," said O.V. Delle-Femine, AMFA national director.

The country's biggest carrier, United, also is in contract talks with its mechanics, No. 2 American Airlines is negotiating with flight attendants and No. 3 Delta Air Lines is in negotiations with its pilots.

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