Northwest Laying Off 1,400 Attendants

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Northwest Airlines Corp. said Wednesday it will lay off 1,400 flight attendants by January as it shrinks in bankruptcy, just months after it re-hired some of them.

The flight attendants union also said Northwest is pressing to use more locally hired, nonunion flight attendants on overseas flights as another way to save money - a proposal the union said would result in the outsourcing of those jobs to cheaper labor markets overseas and which it will fight.

The layoffs will begin with 900 furloughs on Oct. 31, including 480 in Detroit, Northwest's largest hub, and 355 in Minneapolis. The remainder would come by January, according to a memo by a Northwest vice president for in-flight services that was provided by the Professional Flight Attendants Association.

Northwest employed about 8,500 flight attendants on May 31.

Northwest said when it filed for Chapter 11 protection last week that it would furlough more workers, and last week the pilot's union said 400 pilots would be laid off in coming months. The carrier has indicated it would reduce its schedule by at least 5 percent to 6 percent.

''These actions were necessary in order for NWA to build a competitive cost structure and a more effective business model,'' the memo said.

Over the summer, Northwest recalled flight attendants who had been laid off after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Bob Krabbe, a spokesman for the flight attendants union. Northwest even ran ads recruiting new flight attendants, although it said that was in case current flight attendants staged a sympathy strike with mechanics, who walked out on Aug. 20.

''We're most disturbed by the company's issuing notices of furlough to people they just got done recalling,'' Krabbe said. ''We think that it shows a callous disregard for these individuals and their lives.''

Northwest is in talks with flight attendants, ground workers and pilots as it seeks to cut costs in bankruptcy. Flight attendants have said Northwest wants $195 million in savings from them as part of $1.4 billion in concessions from all workers.

The airline has also riled the flight attendants' union by proposing to use non-union flight attendants for overseas flights and flights on planes with fewer than 100 seats, Krabbe said.

Northwest is a major carrier in Asia. Currently, it can use locally hired, non-union flight attendants on flights south and west of its Tokyo hub. Krabbe said that currently amounts to about 500 flight attendants. Northwest's proposal would be a major shift of work away from flights staffed by PFAA flight attendants, Krabbe said.

''We're going to fight that vigorously,'' Krabbe said. ''If the company were to have its way, we would be looking at losing literally thousands of jobs to overseas labor. This is something that we have not seen at any other airline. United (Airlines) in its worst days has never tried to do this.''

At United Airlines, up to 1.5 percent of flight attendants on Asia flights can be locally hired - and only if no union-represented flight attendants are on furlough, said Sara Nelson Dela Cruz, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants at United.

She said there are currently no locally hired flight attendants working under that provision because some union flight attendants are still on furlough.

''It would be devastating for the airline industry, for American workers, for Northwest to succeed in outsourcing those jobs,'' she said.

Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said the airline has simply told unions a target and suggested ''a menu of ways those savings can be achieved.''

Shares of Northwest fell 10 cents, or 12 percent, to close at $0.71 in trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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