Originally created 08/30/98

Airline grounded by pilots' strike



MINNEAPOLIS -- By the time Northwest Airlines' 6,100 pilots went on strike, most of their passengers were already gone.

Announcements echoed in the nearly deserted main terminal of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which is dominated by the airline. Its bars and shops were nearly deserted Friday night and most of the baggage carousels were still.

Northwest, which accounts for 80 percent of the flights into and out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, had been warning of the strike possibility and earlier this week canceled 400 flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

There was no indication Saturday when talks would resume, although sides had said they were ready to negotiate.

"When it broke last night, everybody made sure everyone had everyone's phone numbers," Northwest spokesman Jon Austin said Saturday. But he said the company had not heard from the union, the Air Line Pilots Association.

The union was waiting to hear from Northwest, said spokesman Paul Omodt.

Bargaining had gone into a 10th straight day, and a last-minute offer was rushed to the union's executive council hours before the strike deadline of 11:01 p.m. CDT Friday.

Shortly before the deadline, Steve Zoller, the head of the council, said the offer was rejected.

The White House said President Clinton would not intervene and order a 60-day "cooling off" period as he did last year when a strike by American Airlines pilots was only four minutes old.

Rather, Clinton "urges the parties to stay at the table, work hard and resolve their differences," White House press secretary Mike McCurry said. Another White House spokesman, Barry Toiv, wouldn't say what factors the president took into account in reaching his decision.

Northwest, based in suburban Eagan, is the nation's No. 6 airline in terms of passengers carried, with more than 54 million annually. It controls 75 percent to 82 percent of the airline seats into Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis, Tenn.

Omodt had said earlier that two of the most contentious points were job security and compensation.

Northwest pilots say they earn an average salary of about $120,000 per year. The airline says the average salary is $133,000.

The pilots have been seeking a 15 percent raise over five years dating to Oct. 31, 1996, when their contract expired. Austin said the offer on the table would give Northwest pilots pay rates 4.5 percent higher than average rate earned by pilots at American, United and Delta by 2000, and 7 percent higher by the end of contract in 2002.

Northwest also was offering lump sum payments to pilots of 3.5 percent of annual pay, totaling $57 million. The pilots were seeking a stock and cash package that would be worth a total of $152.5 million.

The strike left Jeff Simon stuck halfway from Newark, N.J., to Seattle, where he had planned to visit family for the weekend. He was scrapping his trip and trying to fly back to Newark on a different airline.

"They've got their reasons for striking," Simon said. "I'm just sorry I got caught in the middle of it."

In Detroit, Army Spc. Daniel Osborne, 21, of Royal Oak, Mich., was trying to get information about his Sunday flight because he is scheduled to report back to an overseas base on Monday and fears being declared absent without leave.

"Here I am, dancing on broken glass. I just want somebody to help me out," Osborne said.

The airline had said a strike and the corresponding shutdown of its two Airlink regional feeder services would eliminate 2,640 daily departures at 223 airports in the United States and abroad, leaving nearly 672,000 passengers without alternative air service during the first 10 days. Northwest already halted its cargo service as of Thursday.

The hub airports had contingency plans, such as stocking coloring books for children, keeping restaurants open 24 hours and offering shuttles to nearby bus and train stations.

Other unions appeared to support the pilots. In Detroit, members of the Northwest machinists union cheered when they heard about the strike.

Northwest has open contracts with all six of its labor unions, although the pilots were the only ones to set a strike deadline.

Outside the airports in Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis, 25 to 40 pilots walked the picket line as some observers cheered and some cars honked as they passed.