Northwest criticizes pilots’ union in newspaper ads

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Northwest Airlines criticized its pilots union in newspaper ads Tuesday for rejecting a pay proposal, while the union accused the company of negotiating through the news media.
The ad was an open letter to the local chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association from Ben Hirst, Northwest’s senior vice president of government affairs. The letter said the union “rejected our proposal within minutes and then left the bargaining table without even offering a substantive response,” calling it “inexplicable and troubling.”
Under the proposal, according to Northwest, pilots’ salaries would be linked to the average of pay scales at United, American and Delta.
“Our proposal is fair and equitable. It ties our pay rates to our largest and most successful competitors,” the ad says.
Steve Arnold, chairman of the pilots’ strike preparedness committee, chastised Northwest in a message on the union’s negotiating hot line, accusing the company of “an orchestrated public relations campaign of negotiating directly through the news media.”
Talks between the airline and its pilots broke down Saturday. No dates have been set for future talks.
The leader of the pilots’ union said he wouldn’t be surprised if the National Mediation Board effectively sets a strike deadline by declaring an impasse in contract talks between the two sides.
“We’re very close to the end game,” said Capt. Steve Zoller, Executive Council chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association and the target of the open letter. But talks could continue through the mediation board’s assistance throughout the mandatory 30-day cooling-off period, he said.
Last week, the pilots’ union voted to authorize a strike. It would be at least late June before any strike could occur.
Talks between pilots’ union — which represents 5,500 pilots — and Northwest had resumed May 24 under the direction of federal mediator Jack Kane.
Meanwhile, IAM spokesman Don Mayer said the airline and its largest union spent Monday morning reviewing possible dates for future talks. Outside observers say that is a sign of progress. Neither Northwest nor the IAM would comment on the talks.
The Eagan-based carrier and the IAM have reached tentative agreements on most contract language changes, but negotiators remain far apart on the issues of pay and pensions.
Talks between the two sides stalled earlier this spring, and tensions remain high. Northwest accuses its ground workers of engaging in a work slowdown which has caused the airline to cancel flights and fire some union members.