BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Northwest Airlines and its pilots' union expressed hope Thursday that a contract agreement could still be reached as the clock began ticking toward a possible strike.
The National Mediation Board declared the talks at an impasse Wednesday, triggering a 30-day cooling off period that would allow the pilots to strike the nation's fourth-largest airline as early as Aug. 29.
The mediation board also said it would schedule further talks, but no date was set.
Talks began in August 1996 and have been under the direction of a federal mediator for nearly a year. The pilots had asked the mediation board since mid-June to declare an impasse, which would allow them to strike.
"We believe Northwest management needs a deadline to motivate them to realistic bargaining," said Paul Omodt, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association. "There's not one Northwest pilot out there who wants a strike, but there's not one Northwest pilot who is not willing to strike."
Omodt said Northwest has not made a realistic economic or job security proposal. Other unresolved issues include work rules and the proposed alliance between Northwest and Continental Airlines.
The pilots union turned down the mediation board's offer of binding arbitration because it has a tradition of negotiated settlements, which are better than "having an agreement imposed by an outsider," Omodt said.
Northwest officials said they were disappointed that the pilots rejected arbitration.
"At the same time, we believe that a negotiated settlement remains possible and we will do our utmost to achieve such a settlement," said Ben Hirst, senior vice president and lead negotiator for the airline.
Hirst said customers with reservations in the next 30 days will not be affected.