updated 9/21/2006 12:02:05 PM ET 2006-09-21T16:02:05

The union representing flight attendants at bankrupt Northwest Airlines Corp. Thursday said it has asked to be released from formal mediation, a move that could pave the way for a strike.

The Association of Flight Attendants said contract negotiations are at an impasse since the airline imposed a new contract on the workers and there is nothing left to discuss. The AFA said in a statement that it has asked the National Mediation Board to release it from mediation.

If the NMB were to cease mediating the dispute, it could be sent to arbitration. If either side rejects arbitration, the two parties must submit to a 30-day “cooling off” period. The AFA says it would have the legal right to strike if no deal is reached by the end of that period.

Northwest and the AFA will give a status report to the NMB Sept. 26. Northwest said Thursday it has no immediate comment on the AFA request to be released from mediation. On Wednesday the airline said it remains willing to negotiate.

“When management unilaterally cut flight attendant pay, benefits and work rules, they mocked the integrity of the NMB’s role in promoting consensual resolution of labor disputes,” said Patricia Friend, AFA-CWA International President.

The AFA has threatened to strike against Northwest, which in July used permission won in bankruptcy court to void a collective bargaining deal and force new terms on the workers that would give the airline $195 million a year in savings.

The legality of the union’s right to strike now is in dispute. Last week, a federal judge blocked the threatened strike and sent the matter back to a bankruptcy court, which previously had said it lacks the authority to block the strike.

The AFA said it would appeal the decision by Judge Victor Marrero to enjoin the strike. So far, no judge has ruled directly on whether the strike would be legal under current conditions.

The Railway Labor Act, which safeguards interstate commerce, requires airline employees to be released from mediation before a strike is legal.

The AFA has argued that Northwest effectively ended negotiations when it imposed the new contract.

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