Northwest Airlines Ground Jobs in Doubt

Northwest Airlines wants to outsource the jobs of about 5,000 baggage handlers, customer service agents and other ground workers, according to the union representing those employees.

Under the Northwest proposal, the airline would keep just 3,100 such workers on its payroll. And all of them would work in either the Twin Cities or Detroit hub.

At gateway and large spoke cities, such as Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles, Northwest expects some 2,200 of its "ground operations" workers would become employees of a new company, dubbed "Ground Co."

At smaller spoke airports, such as Philadelphia and Phoenix, the jobs of some 2,500 ground operations workers also would be outsourced.

The International Association of Machinists, the union representing the affected workers, doesn't think much of the bankrupt airline's plan, of course.

It's part of the struggling carrier's effort to squeeze $190 million in annual labor savings from the members of District 143 of the IAM. Overall, the IAM represents some 14,600 Northwest employees.

"It's a figment of their imagination," said union President Bobby De Pace. "They told us, 'We haven't figured this all out yet. But this is what we want to do.' They want a new company," within Northwest.

Under the company proposal to its ground workers, employees who remain with Northwest would typically get 9 percent base pay cuts. That would give them a top-scale full-time hourly wage of about $18.50, excluding benefits and any premium pay.

But those people working for the new company, apparently a Northwest subsidiary, would suffer about a 20 percent pay cut to about $16.50 an hour. And those working for outside vendors would see their pay fall some 40 percent to about $12.

"They want (our) people to work for Mesaba and Pinnacle wages," said De Pace, referring to the two airlines that provide Northwest with service in smaller markets.

De Pace said the union wants to save as many jobs as possible.

"We want to keep that work, and we've come up with good ideas about how to keep people employed,'' he said. "But the company is not interested."

Northwest, however, said it's open to alternative union proposals about how to achieve labor savings.

United Airlines, also in bankruptcy, recently announced it will send 650 phone reservation jobs to India. But Northwest swears it has no such intentions, said De Pace.

"We're nervous about that," said De Pace.

Next week, Northwest will be in bankruptcy court to seek temporary 19 percent pay cuts from IAM members. Those cuts would likely stay in place until the two sides negotiate a final deal.

Martin J. Moylan can be reached at or 651-228-5479.

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