Updated from 4:35 p.m. EDT
Saying he needs more time to evaluate the case, a federal judge blocked
flight attendants from going on strike Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero issued a preliminary injunction in order to provide more time for a review. Marrero could rule as early as next week on whether to allow a strike, said the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents the airline's 7,300 active flight attendants.
Flight attendants had sought the right to strike at 10 p.m. EDT Friday, but attorneys for the fifth-largest airline argued that a strike could potentially cause the closure of the airline, which is operating under bankruptcy court protection.
"The court believes time for consideration for examining the bodies' arguments more exhaustively is essential," Marrero said. "The court's rendering of a determination at this time would not be prudent."
The AFA has said it wouldn't conduct a traditional strike, but would instead engage in random unannounced strikes affecting specific flights, known as CHAOS. "We will continue to prepare ourselves and our members for CHAOS," said Mollie Reiley, interim president of the Northwest chapter of the AFA, in a prepared statement issued late Friday, following the ruling. "This is not over."
"Management and the courts can stall us, but they cannot defeat us," Reiley noted. "Our crusade to protect our careers has only begun."
Northwest CEO Doug Steenland said in a prepared statement that the airline was pleased with the decision to issue an injunction, which means that "customers can continue to book the airline with confidence." Northwest remains "committed to negotiating a consensual agreement with our flight attendants and hope to accomplish that goal in the near future," he said.
Friday's hearing followed a ruling last week by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper of New York, who rejected Northwest's request to prohibit flight attendants from striking. In the ruling, Gropper encouraged Northwest to appeal.
Gropper's ruling was unprecedented because, in four other bankruptcy cases filed by legacy airlines since the Sept. 11 attacks, there had never been a decision on whether the Railway Labor Act takes precedence over bankruptcy law.
Under the Railway Labor Act, Gropper said, the airline's July 31 move to throw out an existing contract and impose a new one on the flight attendants triggered the union's right to strike.
The imposed contract represents an effort to reduce flight-attendant costs by $195 million annually. The union says the contract includes a reduction of more than 40% in salaries and benefits, and as much as 25% additional work time. The airline says average annual salary declined by 11% to $46,800, while average monthly flying increased by 16% to 87 hours.
Gropper said the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia act, another key tenet of labor law, "generally divests the federal courts of jurisdiction to halt strike activity in cases involving labor disputes," and that "nothing in the Bankruptcy Code or in the policies of bankruptcy law overrides the provisions of this statute."
He also found that previous cases have assumed a strike is permitted under bankruptcy law after the rejection of a labor contract.