Northwest Pilots Union Files Suit to Stop Perks

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones/AP) - Northwest Airlines Corp.'s pilots union slapped the company with a lawsuit last week for perks introduced since the airline's financial outlook began brightening late last year.

The perks include a $100 gift card reward program for pilots with a "can-do attitude" - such as those who handled flight diversions during inclement weather at Tokyo's Narita airport in October 2006.

Another plan, which Northwest calls the "Holiday Recognition Program," offers $25 to $50 in daily bonuses for union workers who stayed on the job between Christmas and New Year's.

The union also complained about a new "success-sharing" program that raises pilots' compensation, saying the Northwest "unilaterally determined" how the pilots should be rewarded. It also criticized the airline's move to create "employee involvement teams" to discuss working conditions without union representatives.

The Air Line Pilots Association International called the programs violations of collective-bargaining requirements in a complaint filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. Lawsuits filed against companies under Chapter 11 protection are often filed as part of the bankruptcy case.

During Northwest's bankruptcy, the pilots union has sought to minimize what one spokesman called "draconian" pay cuts. According to court documents, some pilots' salaries have been cut by 24 percent.

"Of course, we are not against any kind of incentive program or rewarding pilots for a job well done," said Wade Blaufuss, a union spokesman and Northwest pilot. "What we are fighting for is the sovereignty of our union. The core of it is that we expect the company to negotiate with the union, who is the bargaining agent for the pilots at Northwest."

In a letter to Northwest President Douglas M. Steenland, union leader Dave Stevens said that the "incentive plans and other improvements for employees would be beneficial for both the company and the pilots," but they were created without the input of the union - a violation of labor law.

In a written statement, the Eagan, Minn., carrier called the lawsuit "without merit."

"We are disappointed that the Air Line Pilots Association is opposing the company's efforts to enable our pilots to share in the airline's success and to be recognized and rewarded for providing great customer service," the statement said.

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