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On Wednesday, the pilots and management failed to meet a deadline for a deal set by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper. In January, Northwest asked Gropper to nullify the pilots' contract if the two parties could not forge a deal.
When the two sides didn't meet Gropper's deadline, Northwest had the legal right to impose a new contract. Instead, it kept its negotiators at the bargaining table.
At that stage, Trippler said, each side was holding a "nuclear card." Northwest could have used the bankruptcy law to force the pilots to work under a contract they found unacceptable. And the pilots could have responded with a strike, which could have led to an ugly court battle over the legality of that move.
Neither side played the nuclear card.
James Sprayregen, who was the lead counsel in the United Airlines bankruptcy case, said Friday that Northwest management made an "intelligent" choice by not trying to force terms on the pilots.
"Without labor and management working together in the airline, at the end of the day you don't have an airline," Sprayregen said.
Steenland, who became CEO in late 2004, was in New York for the final days of negotiations, though he was not at the bargaining table when the pilots reached a deal Friday or when the Professional Flight Attendants Association (PFAA) negotiated its agreement Wednesday.
"As CEO, he knew the importance of the two agreements as Northwest continues its restructuring and he made the tough decisions that resulted in two tentative agreements over the past three days," Northwest spokesman Bill Mellon said.
Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are voting on a contract that reduces ground worker costs by $190 million a year.
PFAA leaders said Friday that they are working on the final language for their contract. That, too, is subject to a vote. The offer cuts flight attendant costs by $195 million a year.
Liz Fedor 612-673-7709