Judge blocks strike at NWA

A federal judge threw another lifeline to Northwest Airlines on Friday when he blocked flight attendants from striking anytime soon, citing the “vital role” that airlines play in the U.S. economy.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero overruled a bankruptcy court judge’s decision to let a strike occur.

He noted that Northwest carries 130,000 passengers a day on 1,200 flights and is the lone carrier for 23 U.S. cities and provides half of all airline service to another 20 cities.

Northwest applauded the decision, and called for talks with representatives of about 7,300 active flight attendants. But the union said it won’t negotiate unless it has the right to strike. Later Friday the union said it had appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., the world’s biggest insurance brokerage, said Friday it will cut 750 jobs, consolidate some locations and revamp its information technology structure to cut costs.

Marsh & McLennan, which has struggled with profitability since it changed operating procedures after New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 2004 accused it of bid rigging, said the actions announced Friday would save it roughly $350 million a year by the end of 2008.

The 750 job cuts come on top of some 5,000 layoffs Marsh had made previously in the fallout of the Spitzer probe.

Most of the job cuts will occur in the company’s Marsh insurance unit and Mercer Human Resource Consulting arm, a company spokeswoman said. The New York-based company employs roughly 55,000 workers in more than 100 countries.

•Speculation that drugmaker Schering-Plough Corp. plans to offer to merge with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. may be a gambit for the company to gauge shareholder support for such a move, an analyst said Friday.

On Friday, a story in the Newark Star-Ledger quoted unnamed sources close to Schering-Plough as saying the Kenilworth, N.J.-based company has serious plans in the works to propose a “reverse merger,” where Bristol-Myers would buy out the company in a stock transaction.

Talk of combining Bristol-Myers with another drugmaker started boiling on Tuesday after the company replaced its embattled chief executive, Peter R. Dolan, with interim CEO James M. Cornelius, whose last claim to fame was shepherding the sale of medical device company Guidant Corp. to Boston Scientific Corp. Also, in a conference call Tuesday, Bristol-Myers Chairman James D. Robinson hinted at the possibility of a sale in the future.


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