Northwest Ground Workers Take Some Aircraft Cleaning Work

Northwest Airlines Corp. will hand some of its aircraft cleaning work to ground workers, the workers' union said Thursday, returning jobs that were lost to the mechanics in 1998.

With aircraft cleaners joining mechanics on strike, Northwest has followed through on its strike plan to give baggage handlers in Minneapolis and Detroit so-called "turn cleaning" - the quick cleaning done between flights. Those ground workers already perform that work at other locations, said Bobby De Pace, president of District 143 of the International Association of Machinists.

His union represents Northwest baggage handlers, ticket agents and other ground workers. That union used to represent mechanics and airplane cleaners, too, before those workers bolted for their current union in 1998.

The IAM also took over the task of pushing aircraft back from the gate, which used to be the mechanics' job before they struck. The IAM is also pushing to get back the more extensive overnight cleaning.

Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said he had no comment on the cleaning issue.

AMFA Assistant National Director Steve MacFarlane said the IAM shouldn't get too attached to those cleaning jobs.

"Those used to be AMFA jobs, and of course now they want to make them IAM jobs. And six months from now they belong to nonunion replacement workers just like they're doing to mechanics and the flight attendants," MacFarlane predicted. "It's naive to think they can make a deal with Northwest Airlines."

About 4,400 Northwest mechanics and cleaners entered the sixth day of their strike on Thursday, and no new talks were scheduled.

Eagan-based Northwest said its operations were normal on Thursday. Ebenhoch said the airline is prepared to operate "indefinitely" with its new maintenance system.

Also Thursday, lawyers for Northwest flight attendants said the airline has agreed to pay $64.7 million to settle a dispute over its failure to buy back stock granted to flight attendants for concessions in 1993.

The agreement obligated Northwest to buy the shares back in November 2003, but it said legal restrictions under Delaware law, where it is incorporated, prevented it from doing so. But a judge ruled in March that Northwest had to buy the shares. The settlement averts a trial that had been set to begin next month to determine how much Northwest would have to pay.

Northwest spokesman Bill Mellon said the company had no comment on the stock repurchase.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press