Flight Attendant's Union Nears NWA Deal

The union for Northwest Airlines flight attendants believes it may be close to a deal on a new contract with the bankrupt carrier.

Meanwhile, unions for the carrier's pilots and ground workers are preparing to strike should they not seal deals with Northwest.

The flight attendants union is offering Northwest the $195 million in annual savings the airline wants, union spokeswoman Karen Schultz said.

"We expected we would have an agreement immediately,'' she said. "We did not get it. But we hope it will be forthcoming. … We have given them the dollars they wanted."

Eagan-based Northwest would not confirm Schultz's account. The airline only said it's continuing to talk with the flight attendants and pilots in the hope of reaching negotiated settlements. If it doesn't, Northwest hopes the judge overseeing its bankruptcy reorganization will allow it to overturn existing contracts.

Schultz would not provide specifics about pay cuts and jobs losses under the union's proposal to Northwest. But she said pay cuts would be north of the 17.5 percent the airline has been seeking.

"They will be higher than what the company has put out there, the pay cuts,'' she said. "It will be painful."

With interim 20 to 25 percent pay cuts now in place, the flight attendants' annual pay ranges from $15,500 to $38,000.

Job losses, though, would be significantly less than the 2,600 or more that the union has projected would result from the airline's proposals to outsource flight attendant jobs, Schultz said.

The union's pitch to the airline does not allow the outsourcing of flight attendant jobs on international flights but "we are looking at job losses," she said.

Meanwhile, over the next four weeks or so, some 14,500 Northwest baggage handlers, clerks and other ground employees will be voting whether to approve an agreement with Northwest and — at the same time — whether to authorize a strike should the agreement be rejected. Vote results should be out the week of March 5.

Some 1,800 to 2,500 workers could lose their jobs under the proposed deal. Employees who remain on the job would get 11.5 percent pay cuts. That would leave most of them with an hourly wage of $7.30 to $17.70.

If they reject the contract, members should be ready to strike, said union leader Bobby De Pace.

"We want people to vote for a strike,'' De Pace said. "If they don't, we lose our horsepower (in case of a contract rejection)."

Union members in Detroit and Memphis, Tenn., are voting this week, he said. Twin Cites members vote next week. And the vote will continue over the next four weeks in more than 100 cities. All votes are by paper ballot.

Given the potential for the bankruptcy judge to reject the union contract, De Pace is unsure how a strike vote would play out.

"In regular negotiations, there's a 60-day cooling-off period (after a strike vote),'' he said. "We don't know if we'd get that now."

But the union is ready to strike if it comes to that.

"We have a strike fund, about $150 million, for our people,'' he said.

Industry analysts expect Northwest's pilots soon will be asked to authorize a strike, too.

The union's national headquarters already has given the Northwest pilots $10 million to prepare for a strike. Their strike center is already up and running, union spokesman Will Holman said.

Union leader Mark McClain has said the pilots could strike even if it would result in a "murder-suicide," killing Northwest and costing the pilots their jobs.

During Wednesday's proceedings in the bankruptcy court hearing about overturning Northwest union contracts, the airline said it's far from reaching a deal with the pilots. It said the pilots are about $105 million short of giving the airline the $612 million in annual savings it has sought from them.

With a recent interim 24 percent pay cut on top of a previous 15 percent cut, the pilot pay scale now ranges from $27,000 to $160,000 a year.

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


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