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Northwest Airlines Corp. and its mechanics union traded contract proposals Wednesday, but the carrier rejected the union’s latest offer and a union spokesman said “the Grand Canyon” still separates the two sides. Negotiators for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association offered a proposal Wednesday night it said would save Northwest the $176 million annually that the airline has been seeking from the union, which represents about 4,500 mechanics at the airline. Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest disputed that assessment of the offer. “We did receive a new proposal from AMFA,” Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said. “It appears to fall far short of the $176 million dollars in annual cost savings that the company needs from AMFA.” He said the company estimates the offer’s value at $100 million. Although union officials had reported some progress earlier in the day, they sounded far less optimistic Wednesday night. “At this point, with two days and a few hours left, we have the Grand Canyon to span before we’re going to be able to make an agreement,” said Steve MacFarlane, AMFA’s assistant national director. Earlier Wednesday, Northwest submitted a new proposal to the union. No details of that offer have been released by either side. Representatives for Eagan-based Northwest and the mechanics union have been negotiating in Washington since Monday, hoping to avoid a strike that could start at 12:01 a.m. EDT Saturday. Northwest, the nation’s fourth-largest carrier, has pledged to keep flying if there is a strike. In the face of operating losses and possible bankruptcy, Northwest is seeking $1.1 billion in annual savings through concessions from its employees, including $176 million from mechanics. It’s asking mechanics to accept a 25 percent pay cut, and wants to lay off about 2,000 mechanics. Northwest also wants to be able to hire contractors to do some of the work now done by AMFA’s mechanics, cleaners and custodians. A statement on AMFA’s Web site Wednesday indicated that Northwest wasn’t retreating from its stance that it can’t retain AMFA-represented cleaners and custodians. Northwest is the only major airline that still has cleaners and custodians on its payroll. MacFarlane acknowledged that the airline’s desire to lay off most of them could be a final sticking point. “The reality is that in any negotiations there are compromises,” he said. “Certainly if there’s no way to preserve these jobs, then absolutely there has to be some method of providing severance and a bridge to making a living — better than what’s being offered now.” Also on Wednesday, Mesaba Airlines — one of Northwest’s regional partners — filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis seeking to keep its own mechanics on the job if their Northwest colleagues walk the picket line. Mesaba mechanics are also represented by AMFA. Mesaba, a subsidiary of MAIR Holdings Inc., serves mainly smaller cities in the Midwest. It claims in the lawsuit that a work stoppage by its mechanics could severely disrupt its operations. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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