Northwest Airlines Corp. wants its striking mechanics union to make concessions worth $203 million, up from the airline's previous demand of $176 million, a union local president said.
In addition to the increased salary cuts, the proposal made Thursday by the airline would lay off two-thirds of its mechanics, according to Ken Reed, president of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association local in Duluth. The proposed layoffs are also more than previously demanded.
Reed told The Associated Press that Northwest's latest proposal was relayed to him by his union local representative, who participated in Thursday's talks in downtown Minneapolis.
Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch would neither confirm nor deny the proposal Reed outlined. Union contract coordinator Jeff Mathews would not comment.
No deal was reached Thursday to end the strike which began Aug. 20. Talks were set to resume Friday morning.
Reed said Northwest is proposing to keep 1,020 mechanics nationwide, including 820 in Minneapolis and Detroit combined, and another 200 in Duluth.
Before the strike, Northwest employed just over 3,000 mechanics, according to the carrier's Web site. The rest of the 4,427 union members include custodians and cleaners. The airline's previous proposal called for cutting some 2,000 union workers -- with cuts concentrated among cleaners and custodians.
Bob Rose, president of the AMFA local in Detroit, confirmed the layoff figure for the AP.
The airline has told the union it would begin hiring permanent replacements by Sept. 13 if they didn't reach a deal.
David Benedict, who worked as a mechanic for 18 years in Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta, said he thought the meetings Thursday were just another step toward bankruptcy.
"They're negotiating again, just so they can go to a bankruptcy judge and say, `We made them a final offer.' So they can save face."
David Pounds, a 22-year mechanic, said he was pondering a career switch, perhaps to sell cars. He's had job interviews, but hasn't had any offers.
"People are reluctant to hire a guy on strike," he said.
Also, he has had trouble finding a job where the pay matches what he made as a mechanic. Union mechanics made $70,000 a year on average.
Striking workers could return to work if Northwest had a job for them, but that's an empty promise for some. Northwest hired vendors to do much of its aircraft cleaning, for instance, so striking cleaners would not be able to get their jobs back. And Northwest has shifted much of its mechanics' work to outside vendors.
Todd Henshaw, an 18-year mechanic, knows his job would be cut.
"I already know I'm gone. I'm hoping they will give a living wage to those who are left," he said of the negotiations.
In a letter to the union that was made public on Wednesday, Julie Hagen Showers, Northwest's vice president for labor relations, wrote, "Our last best offer which was presented to you on August 18 was based on economic circumstances that no longer exist today."
She said the company had been prepared to honor that offer, but the company's finances had deteriorated since then and "unfortunately we are no longer able to do so."
The letter repeated the airline's claims that fuel prices are expected to rise to $3.3 billion, up 50 percent from $2.2 billion last year. It said it will probably need labor savings above the $1.1 billion it had previously sought.
Some striking mechanics said Northwest customers should have to carry part of the financial burden of increased fuel prices.
"You can't keep passing it on to your employees," said Steve Alden, a Northwest mechanic for 16 years. "They keep raising gas prices, but people will keep buying gas. People will keep flying."
Meanwhile, some details emerged Thursday from an FAA inspector's memo that raised questions about the work of replacement mechanics.
In the Aug. 22 memo, obtained by Minnesota Public Radio News, inspector Mark Lund said he found numerous examples of worker errors, including a line maintenance manager who couldn't find the right switches to do an engine check on an Airbus A320; a replacement mechanic who didn't know he had to set the brakes on a plane so he could check brake wear pins; and a replacement who wasn't sure how to close a passenger entry door on a Boeing 757.
Greg Brown, an FAA spokesman in Washington, confirmed the authenticity of the memo.
Lund has been reassigned to a desk job after the airline complained to FAA supervisors that he had been acting unprofessionally. Brown said the agency's investigation into the safety concerns and Northwest's complaint against the inspector might be resolved by next week.
By Joshua Freed, AP Business Writer
Associated Press Writer Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)