ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Officials of Northwest Airlines and its striking pilots' union met with a federal mediator Saturday attempting to jump-start negotiations on compensation and job security issues.
The talks, overseen by mediator Maggie Jacobsen, weren't expected to result in much beyond a date for more talks.
"Frankly, it's hard to be optimistic about what will happen next," said Northwest spokesman Jon Austin as the meeting got under way at a hotel near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. "Talking is better than not talking."
The money chasm dividing the two sides is about $180 million per year, Austin said.
Northwest has canceled all flights through Tuesday and all incoming flights from Europe and Asia through Wednesday. About 27,700 of Northwest's 50,000 employees have been laid off since the airline's 6,100 pilots went on strike Aug. 28.
"We've been told there's another wave of furloughs coming next week," said Ken Carver, one of about 60 Northwest mechanics who remain on duty in Memphis, Tenn., one of the airline's hubs. "Our numbers have been reduced by half and we're told to expect them to go down by half again."
Carver and other mechanics worked Friday preparing about 40 Northwest airliners for long-term storage.
In the meantime, AirTran reached tentative agreement Saturday in Atlanta on a contract with its 500 flight attendants. The airline, based in Orlando, Fla., serves 37 cities with 284 flights daily. The attendants had been without a contract since they organized three years ago as employees of what was then ValuJet Airlines.
No weekend contract talks were scheduled for Air Canada, whose 2,100 pilots have been on strike since Tuesday, and the airline laid off about 11,000 employees at midnight Friday. The pilots are seeking a 12 percent pay increase over two years and the company is offering 9 percent.
Northwest is the nation's sixth-largest airline in terms of passengers carried annually and the fourth-largest in revenue. It carries nearly 150,000 passengers a day and 2.9 million pounds of cargo on 1,700 flights in North America, Europe, Asia and India.
Two feeder carriers that provide service as Northwest Airlink -- Mesaba Airlines and Express Airlines I -- discontinued service because Northwest normally handles their ground operations and most of their passengers connect to Northwest flights.
The Transportation Department ordered the carriers Friday to reinstate scheduled air service to 17 small towns in 11 states no later than Tuesday. Northwest was ordered to provide the necessary support for the affiliates.
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