Job Status Changing for NW Airlines Employees

Eighteen Northwest Airlines employees at Billings Logan International Airport are anxiously waiting to see what will happen with their jobs.

Come Halloween, 18 full-time ticket agents, gate agents and baggage handlers at the airport will either be working for a private Texas company or doing something else.

The job changes are a result of the Minneapolis-based airline's bankruptcy. Northwest is restructuring its finances by cutting $2.5 billion. Last year, Northwest told its unions that they must contribute $1.4 billion of those cuts.

In January, ground employees, who are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, were told their union must cut $190 million.

That means IAM jobs at 69 airports where Northwest has fewer than 50 flights per week, including Billings, will be transferred to Worldwide Flight Services, based in Irving, Texas.

"It's a transformation. We are transferring ground operations to a third-party service provider," said Roman Blahoski, a Northwest spokesman in Minneapolis.

Northwest IAM employees have three choices.

The workers can apply to Worldwide Flight Services to try to keep their jobs.

If they want to stay with the airline, they can bid on a job at another Northwest operation. These transfer requests are based on seniority and a more senior employee can "bump" or replace one with less seniority.

Third, the IAM employee can retire from Northwest.

Billings Northwest station manager Dale Young said Monday the transition will take place quickly.

"It's just going to get busier and busier for the next three weeks," Young said.

Because the bid requests are complicated and all the details of Worldwide's offer aren't in yet, Young said the Billings employees will have to wait until the end of the week for more solid information.

"We're not releasing the number of employees affected systemwide," Blahoski said.

Northwest has been actively helping affected employees since the announcement was made in January, he said, including giving workers a handbook about their choices and offering help in job searches.

In addition, workers are being offered a severance package of up to 20 weeks' pay, medical coverage and travel benefits.

"That is double what was offered in the current IAM contract," Blahoski said.

Fliers won't notice the changes, Blahoski said.

Worldwide Flight Services provides ground services at more than 60 major airports in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

However, since Northwest cut its flights to Billings from three to two per day, seats have been full and fares more expensive, according to JoAnn Dukart, who manages World Class Travel in Billings.

"It means a lot. Fewer seats mean higher prices for everyone," she said. "It's black-and-white."

Flights around Christmas on all the airlines serving Billings are almost sold out, Dukart said. Northwest is adding a temporary third daily flight to Billings from Dec. 19 through Jan. 2 to handle the holiday rush, Dukart said.

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