Northwest adds union workers on ground in Twin Cities, Detroit; The airline said that using its own employees ``will result in more efficient luggage handling at a lower cost.''

Northwest Airlines, which has been outsourcing jobs for several years, confirmed Thursday that it has been hiring union workers to replace nonunion employees at its Mesaba subsidiary.

Specifically, Northwest has added employees in its Twin Cities and Detroit hubs to handle the transfer of luggage between Northwest flights and Mesaba and Pinnacle Airlines flights.

Stephen Gordon, president of the Northwest ground workers union, views the move as a major victory for his group, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

Gordon said that regional carriers and outside vendors have increasingly been doing "what we would say is our work."

Northwest said that it believes that assigning luggage transfer work to its own employees "will result in more efficient luggage handling at a lower cost."

Gordon estimated the change will mean about 300 more jobs for Northwest employees represented by the IAM.

Northwest declined to reveal how many jobs have been created by the decision to consolidate luggage transfer duties. The airline said that its employees will handle luggage transfers for all Northwest and Northwest Airlink regional flights at its two big hubs. Previously, Northwest employees did that work for Northwest mainline flights and Mesaba employees performed the work for Mesaba and Pinnacle flights.

Mesaba managers have told some equipment service employees that their jobs have been cut. Mesaba employees are being retained for loading and unloading luggage on regional flights at the Twin Cities and Detroit hubs.

Historically, there have been high turnover rates among Mesaba ground workers, and that may partly explain why the IAM has been unable to organize those employees.

Gordon, IAM District 143 president, said he is eager to prove to Northwest that it will be more cost-effective to have the luggage-handling work done by union crews.

"I want every job on that airport property, from Compass Airlines to the Pinnacle Airlines flights," Gordon said. "Anything that is related to Northwest Airlines with luggage, we need to control our destiny. These are our jobs."

Last year, Northwest's regional partners, Mesaba and Pinnacle, provided $1.4 billion in operating revenue. That was 11 percent of Northwest's total revenue, which was greater than what Northwest's European flying contributed to the business.

Regional carriers will be playing an even larger role in Northwest's business operations. The airline is retiring some of its old DC-9s and transferring some of that flying to large regional jets.

Northwest acquired Mesaba this year and is giving the airline 36 new 76-seat regional jets. Northwest also created Compass Airlines during its bankruptcy, and that subsidiary also will fly 36 regional jets.

The IAM, the largest union at Northwest, allowed the outsourcing of ground worker jobs at 69 spoke stations in its latest contract. Now Gordon is focused on regaining jobs in Northwest's IAM ranks.

"We gave $190 million worth of concessions [per year] and we want some job security that this work is ours," he said.

Liz Fedor - 612-673-7709

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