BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) Leaders of the mechanics union at Northwest Airlines cried foul this weekend over their treatment by federal mediators and vowed to prepare for a strike regardless of President Bush”s intent to stop one.

The National Mediation Board oversaw more than 100 days of negotiations but decided the talks between Northwest and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association were deadlocked. The two sides were about $2 billion to $2.5 billion apart on issues of wages, retroactive pay and pensions.

The board released the parties from the talks late Friday, triggering a 30-day cooling-off period required under federal law before the union could strike.

But the board also recommended that Bush take the unusual step of appointing a Presidential Emergency Board to prevent a strike and study the dispute. Hours later, Bush said he”d do just that if Northwest and AMFA don”t settle by 12:01 p.m. EST March 12.

By appointing an emergency board, the president would push the union”s first chance to strike back to mid-May. In the meantime, the board would have 60 days to negotiate a settlement and could even send its proposal to Congress for a vote.

Leaders of the mechanics union claim federal mediators specifically told their negotiating team that the release carried no recommendation that Bush intervene in the dispute, a scenario that would have increased the union”s bargaining power. Steve MacFarlane, president of AMFA Local 33, said he only found out that mediators had, in fact, recommended an emergency board by reading it on the Internet.

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