MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – A union spokesman for striking Northwest Airlines mechanics said Saturday he doubts a deal will be reached anytime soon to end the three-week walkout.

“I think it would be a miracle for us to reach an agreement during this round of bargaining,” said Steve MacFarlane, assistant national director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.

Andy Roberts, Northwest vice president for operations, said no new proposals were exchanged Saturday. The two sides still expected to hold face-to-face talks sometime later in the day.

Northwest is seeking $1.1 billion in annual labor cost savings and has said rising fuel prices mean it will probably raise that target. The company is in talks with all of its workers.

The union has said Northwest wants to keep only 1,080 mechanics’ jobs and eliminate aircraft cleaner and custodian positions represented by the union. That represents about 3,350 layoffs, up from the 2,000 Northwest sought before the strike.

Northwest’s proposal would save it $203 million a year, up from the $176 million it sought before the strike began Aug. 20. That proposal was made Thursday, and the union has not rejected it, even though it’s a far worse deal than the one they struck over.

The union made its own proposal to Northwest on Saturday and was waiting for a response, according to negotiations spokesman Jeff Mathews. He would not give details of the union offer.

Mathews said both sides had met face-to-face and that more talks were possible late Saturday night.

MacFarlane said he expects the two sides to reach a deal eventually, even though striking workers may not like it.

“We all know that at some point an agreement must be reached. We also know that any tentative agreement is going to be extreme by any measure,” he told union members in a hot line message Saturday morning.

Northwest has said time is running out for it to avoid bankruptcy. Oct. 16 is the last day before a new, more restrictive bankruptcy law takes effect, and CEO Doug Steenland has acknowledged that the law change is one factor in the company’s bankruptcy considerations.

On Friday, pilots said Northwest told them it wants $322 million in savings. The union gave no response to Northwest’s proposal. Last year pilots accepted a 15 percent pay cut worth $300 million when combined with a pay cut for salaried management workers.

AP-ES-09-10-05 2246EDT

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