MINNEAPOLIS -- With the White House and federal mediators twisting arms, Northwest Airlines and its striking pilots broke a nearly two-week stalemate and announced a potential settlement.
A tentative deal was announced Thursday, the 13th day of the walkout. But the airline will remain grounded at least until the Airline Pilots Association's 17-member executive board meets Saturday to consider the plan.
The board may either vote on the proposal or submit it to a full membership vote by the 6,100 pilots. No details were released.
"There's some relief that something may be ending soon," said Craig Wolfson, a local strike committee chairman. "But it ain't over 'til it's over."
Nevertheless, the company told mechanics to stop preparing planes for storage and began calling back laid-off ground workers.
Air Canada and its pilots also reached a tentative agreement Thursday to end a nine-day strike. Ratification of the agreement by the 2,100 Air Canada pilots is expected to take about three days. Canada's largest carrier said its 500 daily flights are expected to resume next Wednesday or Thursday.
Northwest spokeswoman Marta Laughlin said it would take 10 to 12 days to bring the airline back to full service. Northwest has canceled all domestic flights through Sunday and Asian and European flights through Monday.
The pilots, who went on strike Aug. 28, had been negotiating for a new contract for two years. They were seeking a 14 percent salary increase over three years, while Northwest offered 9 percent over four years. They also sought increased job security.
Northwest still faces open contracts with five other unions. The International Association of Machinists has asked the National Mediation Board to declare talks at an impasse so a 30-day strike countdown can begin.
"I think it's good that they settled, but it could be bad for our contract," said mechanic Dave Condon. "Northwest could say now that they've spent all this money and don't have any left for us."
President Clinton announced the tentative settlement at the White House. The deal was worked out during 56 hours of talks this week with the help of deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.
The Clinton administration had resisted ordering the pilots back to work, but Slater said the parties were told the president couldn't wait much longer.
"But we also said, `You guys can get this done,"' Slater said.
The breakthrough came during overnight negotiations as federal mediator Maggie Jacobsen kept discussions going until 4 a.m. Thursday.
Northwest, which is headquartered in nearby Eagan, has canceled more than 27,000 flights. The airline has estimated its losses at $26 million per day for a total of at least $338 million.
Two regional airline affiliates, Mesaba Airlines and Express Airlines I, have ended service to 17 smaller cities during the strike. Federal officials ordered both to resume flights.
The strike is the longest against a U.S. airline since 1989, when a machinists' strike led to the collapse of Eastern Airlines. Northwest has laid off about 28,300 non-striking employees since the strike began.
"This has been a long and trying strike for both sides as well as for hundreds of thousands of inconvenienced travelers," said Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson. "It may be many months before the entire economic impact on our state is fully known."
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