Employees cast wary eye on Northwest-Delta merger

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Months of speculation ended Monday with the announcement that Northwest and Delta Air Lines will merge. But for employees of Northwest, the uncertainty is just beginning.

The merged carrier, to be called Delta Air Lines, “will serve more U.S. communities and connect to more worldwide destinations than any global airline,” Northwest said in a statement e-mailed to frequent fliers. “Our hubs – both Delta’s and Northwest’s – will be retained and enhanced.”

Additional Coverage:
NWA-Delta merger: What about the workers? (The Uptake)

Northwest, headquartered in the Twin Cities, employs about 31,000 workers; Atlanta-based Delta has about 47,000. A combined Northwest-Delta will control nearly 18 percent of the U.S. air traffic, making it the largest carrier in the world, industry analysts said.

The new airline’s headquarters will be in Atlanta, affecting some 1,000 employees at Northwest’s headquarters at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Perhaps of even greater concern is the fact that, with the exception of the pilots, all of Delta’s employee groups are non-union.

“We will need the solidarity of the membership if we are to have any success protecting our jobs, our contracts and our pensions,” Machinists Air Transport Lodge 143 President Stephen Gordon said in a letter to members Monday night. The union represents reservation agents, baggage handlers and other Northwest ground workers.

“It will come as no surprise if airline executives attempt to manipulate the merger process to reduce or eliminate the presence of union contracts at the combined carrier,” Gordon noted.

The Machinists will continue to oppose the merger as it makes its way through the regulatory process, he said.

“The IAM will be calling on our members to help protect their jobs by taking action in the halls of Congress, visiting politicians in their home states, and participating in rallies nationwide. We are 700,000 active and retired members strong. The politicians must listen to us.

“If this proposed merger actually does occur, we intend to remain the collective bargaining representative at the combined airline and will need your full support to accomplish that goal.”

The merger was held up over the issue of merging the Northwest and Delta pilot seniority lists. No resolution was reached on that issue. For that reason Northwest pilots – represented by the Air Line Pilots Association – will oppose the merger, said Dave Stevens, chairman of the NWA pilots.

“We were very close to concluding a truly cooperative merger which would have served the interests of everyone,” Stevens said in a letter to all Northwest pilots. “We regret that an agreement was not obtained.”

Without a plan to merge the seniority lists of the two pilot groups – and with the rising cost of jet fuel – the merger “is a recipe for failure,” he wrote. “Under these conditions, Northwest Airlines and all the stakeholders, including the pilots, other employees and customers, are better served by a standalone airline.”

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents flight attendants at Northwest, said it would simultaneously oppose the merger and continue its efforts to help Delta flight attendants organize.

“Regardless of management’s intentions, our union is prepared to defend our contract, uphold our bargaining rights, and demand an end to concessions and a stake in the merged Delta-Northwest entity equal to equity granted other labor groups,” the union said in a statement on its website.

“We will immediately begin to seek to negotiate improvements to our collective bargaining agreement. In addition, we will continue to help our colleagues at Delta in their election seeking AFA-CWA representation, and pressure Delta management to end its history of labor apartheid at the airline.”

The merger transaction must still undergo a lengthy anti-trust review and approval process by federal regulators.

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