Northwest to Outsource 35 Jobs in Pittsburgh

Northwest Airlines plans to outsource 35 bag handler and customer-service agent jobs in January at Pittsburgh International Airport, one of 69 bases involved in a sweeping cost-cutting move, the carrier said Thursday.

The move is part of the bankrupt airline's plan to slice $1.4 billion a year in labor costs from operating expenses. Overall, the carrier wants to slash an annual $2.5 billion from overhead.

Next week, the job cuts will start rolling through 69 airports where Northwest operates fewer than 50 mainline flights per week, spokesman Roman Blahoski said. The carrier averaged 33.5 Pittsburgh departures a week in 2005, when the 69 bases were targeted.

The 35 jobs being outsourced here in mid-January represent all but the station manager's position. The local workers -- bag handlers and gate and ticket agents -- are represented by the International Association of Machinists. It agreed to $190 million in labor savings, including an 11.5 percent pay cut from a contract ratified in March.

"Part of their restructuring allows them to subcontract some work at smaller airports," said machinist-union spokesman Joe Tiberi. If the union had not agreed to the outsourcing option, bankrupt Northwest could have asked Bankruptcy Court to abrogate the union's contract altogether, he said.

The Pittsburgh jobs will be outsourced to Worldwide Flight Services Inc., Irving, Texas, which supplies personnel from skycaps to aircraft cleaners to VIP lounge staffers. The company has operations at more than 100 airports from Barcelona to Beijing.

Worldwide's office at the Pittsburgh airport could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Bases affected in the next month or so include those in cities from Minot, N.D., to Austin, Texas, to Buffalo, N.Y. December's actions will include workers in Cleveland, Harrisburg, Charlotte and Miami. The move does not affect Latrobe's Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, where Northwest express flights are operated by Mesaba Airlines.

"We'll continue to have ample staff to serve our customers," Blahoski said. "This change has no impact on our flight schedule, safety or reliability of customer service."

Northwest has been operating under bankruptcy protection since declaring Chapter 11 last September, about one week before US Airways emerged from bankruptcy and combined with America West Airlines.

The outsourcing comes as Northwest faces a labor dispute with its flight attendants. After an impasse at the bargaining table, the Association of Flight Attendants yesterday asked the National Mediation Board to release the union from further talks. If either side rejects forced arbitration, flight attendants could strike 30 days later.

Blahoski declined to say how many jobs overall are affected at the 69 bases. Workers may either transfer to other Northwest bases, retire from the company or apply to the outside vendors taking over their jobs, such as Worldwide.

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