updated 6/7/2006 8:27:37 AM ET 2006-06-07T12:27:37

Northwest Airlines Corp. flight attendants rejected a pay cut package on Tuesday, setting up a possible showdown with the nation’s fifth-largest carrier.

The Professional Flight Attendants Association said 80 percent of its members voted against the deal. Soon after, Northwest said in a bankruptcy court filing that it would move “soon” to impose its terms on flight attendants with or without the judge’s permission. The union has not disputed Northwest’s legal right to do that.

Northwest said in the filing that it would prefer that Judge Allan Gropper rule on its earlier request to impose terms on flight attendants.

The union said it wants to talk.

“PFAA is prepared to immediately return to negotiations with the company in order to reach a fair and equitable agreement as soon as possible,” union President Guy Meek said in a hotline message to members. He said the union reserves the right to strike. A strike authorization ballot won support from 92 percent of union members in February.

Northwest has been seeking savings worth $195 million a year from flight attendants as part of $1.4 billion in concessions from all its workers. Most workers have approved concessions. The other holdouts are baggage handlers and ramp workers, who are voting through this week on their own concessions. Their ballots will be counted on Friday.

The rejection is a setback for Northwest’s reorganization efforts. That’s because none of its new union contracts take effect until they all do. That means that provisions in the ratified pilot contract allowing Northwest to start a regional jet subsidiary are on hold, along with plans to restructure how ground operations are handled outside Northwest’s hubs.

The rejected contract would have cut hourly pay by 21 percent and would have left flight attendants making roughly $18,000 to $43,000 a year. The union said that increases in health insurance premiums and other concessions would have meant losing the equivalent of 40 percent of their pay.

The union said the vote was 5,195 against and 1,270 for. The PFAA represents about 9,300 flight attendants, although some were prevented from voting because they weren’t current on their dues.

Northwest has a history of labor troubles. When mechanics struck in August, Northwest kept flying and eventually hired permanent replacements. Its pilots struck in 1998.

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