Plea to Pawlenty to Save NWA Jobs

If Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty thinks some 1,900 jobs at the Ford Motor Co. plant in St. Paul are worth saving, what about thousands of jobs at Northwest Airlines?

Striking Northwest mechanics and state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, say the governor should take as much interest, if not more, in Northwest as he has shown in the Ford plant.

"Thousands of Minnesota jobs hang in the balance, but for some reason the governor is steadfastly determined to help one group of workers and has completely ignored the other," said Chaudhary at a Friday press conference at the state Capitol. "The roadmap ahead for the governor is a simple one: Get involved in the Northwest situation and save Minnesota jobs."

Ford may close its St. Paul Ranger truck plant as part of a restructuring plan. Sales of Ranger trucks have been steadily declining. On Wednesday, Pawlenty flew to Detroit to tell Ford executives that Minnesota would meet or exceed the incentives other states are offering to save their plants.

A spokesman for Pawlenty contends the state can't solve Eagan-based Northwest's problems.

The state provided Northwest with help that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 1990s, when the airline nearly went bankrupt, Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said Friday.

"That past investment didn't help,'' McClung said. "It's clear that the problems facing airlines and Northwest are so severe that it is beyond the ability of any one state to solve."

Northwest and Ford are "undergoing dramatic reconfigurations," he said. "But one is in a private-sector labor dispute, and it would not be appropriate for the governor to be inserted in the middle of that."

At the end of 2000, Northwest employed nearly 21,000 workers in Minnesota. But it has lost more than $3 billion since then. Between the jobs cuts at Northwest in recent years and the strike by its mechanics' union last August, the airline now employs about 12,300 Minnesotans. Most, by far, are in the Twin Cities area.

More jobs could go. Northwest wants to outsource about a quarter of the jobs left at the airline, unions say.

The bankrupt carrier is trying to wrap up its drive for $1.4 billion in annual wage and other givebacks from its employees. If it can't win what it wants at the bargaining table, it will ask the judge overseeing its bankruptcy to impose contracts on its unionized pilots, flight attendants and ground workers.

But the three unions representing those workers vow to strike if Northwest doesn't back off its demands.

Local mechanics union president Ted Ludwig delivered a letter to Pawlenty's office Friday, asking him to help save jobs.

"I wish our people could've had the same level of involvement from the governor that the workers at the Ford plant have seen," said Ludwig.

Bobby De Pace, leader of the ground workers union, agreed.

"What's the difference between helping the Ford plant or Northwest?" De Pace said. "The loss of Northwest could have a devastating effect on the Twin Cities economy. This is much bigger than the mechanics now. Pawlenty should be on Northwest's doorstep, saying, 'You better not let these jobs go.' "

Martin J. Moylan can be reached at mmoylan@pioneerpress.com or (651) 228-5479.


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