Northwest Airlines took a step back from the brink of bankruptcy Tuesday, gaining concessions from pilots that could lead to a broader answer to the airline's financial problems.
But two larger unions that have clashed with pilots in the past must be brought on board for the plan to fly, and a top official of one of those unions questioned whether the plan could win rank-and-file support.
The Air Line Pilots Assn.'s governing council voted 24 to 1 to ratify a concessions package after weeks of intense negotiations that ended at 4 a.m. Tuesday. Neither the pilots nor the airline would provide details.
Northwest's banks have said they want employees to make concessions before they will stretch out repayment of more than $1.5 billion in debt.
A leader of the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union said the package did not appear to differ much from one rejected earlier by rank-and-file Machinists. That proposal involved $886 million in concessions in exchange for a 30% stake in the company.
"Basically, what we've heard is the agreement that was offered to ALPA was similar to the one that our membership rejected," said Machinists Secretary-Treasurer John Massetti. "Unless there's something substantive, we cannot bring it back out."
In a prepared statement, the Teamsters Union, which represents flight attendants, characterized the plan favorably, saying its progressive wage and benefit cuts "assure fairness for the people at the bottom rungs of the wage scale."
The statement also said the plan gives employees super-majority rights. That means labor would have veto power over major decisions, including mergers, bankruptcy filings and route sales.
Northwest has been seeking $886 million in wage and benefit cuts over three years from unionized workers in return for a stake in the company. Bankers, in turn, would give the company until 1997 to repay some of its debt.