NWA's Union Workers Face Cuts

As Northwest Airlines Corp. starts to cut costs through its bankruptcy, the carrier's employees will see their ranks shrink.

The airline's pilots already know how many layoffs they will endure, and other unions expect to learn by this week how a reorganized Northwest will affect their members.

"We're expecting the worst," said Bobby De Pace, district president with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents Northwest's 15,000 ground workers.

The union represents about 2,500 baggage handlers, ticket agents and other ground workers based at Detroit Metro Airport.

In Michigan, Northwest employs about 8,800 people, most based at Metro, where Northwest carries more than 60% of passengers. Northwest's flight attendants union also expects to learn this week how the airline plans to cut their jobs.

Northwest Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday, a process that will help the company cut costs and become a smaller airline.

To become smaller, Northwest told its pilots union that it will have to lay off 400 pilots during the next eight months. Those layoffs, likely to be only a first round of job cuts, will start Nov. 1 with 70 pilots. The airline plans to lay off another 150 pilots by Jan. 1 and the rest, 180 pilots, are to be laid off by the middle of next year.

"NWA pilots have aggressively fought over the past few years to help NWA avoid Chapter 11 because of its impact on pilot jobs," the Air Line Pilots Association told members in an e-mail Thursday evening.

The union represents 2,225 pilots based at Detroit Metro Airport.

The pilots union is the only group that has agreed to concessions to help the airline cut costs.

Northwest has been asking its unions for millions -- most recently $1.4 billion -- in pay cuts, job cuts and work-rule changes. The pilots answered last year with a contract that cuts $265 million including a 15% pay cut.

When asked for further cuts -- more than $322 million -- the pilots union decided to open its contract and start negotiations early.

The airline wouldn't comment on the future layoffs, but Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said before filing for bankruptcy, the airline had already announced that it would reduce the number of seats it flies, cutting 5% to 6% by the end of the year.

Ebenhoch also said the airline plans to cut the frequency of flights from Detroit to Paris and Minneapolis, Minn., to London to save on fuel costs. In Detroit, Northwest plans to reduce its route to Paris from daily to five days a week between January and March, he said.

But those are minor cutbacks compared to the changes Northwest hopes to make as it reorganizes.

Northwest hopes to eliminate by abandoning or giving back more than 100 aircraft in its fleet of 699 planes.

The airline has asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan L. Gropper for permission to dump its lease and mortgage debt due on 13 planes. It has identified another 102 planes that it would like to eliminate if it can't refinance its payments on those planes.

Northwest has $5 billion in debt -- through leases and other financing -- on about 300 planes.

Detroit Free Press

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