Unions, airline face Jan. 16 deadline

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The three largest unions at Northwest Airlines continue in negotiations, facing a Jan. 16 bankruptcy court deadline to reach agreements that their members can approve.

Getting that approval means a deal that saves jobs, provides wages that members can live on, and provides affordable benefits, said Bobby DePace, president of Machinists Air Transport District 143. “If they’re going to want deals with the unions, they’re going to have to be realistic,” he said of Northwest.

The airline says that if the unions don’t agree to new contracts, it will ask the court to rip up existing contracts, allowing Northwest to impose its conditions on workers, perhaps as soon as the next day.

If that happens, unions say, they have the right to strike, potentially shutting Northwest down, perhaps for good. “We want our jobs; we don’t want that to happen,” De Pace said.

“But there’s no point in saving something that we’re not going to have a part of,” said Scott Peterson, a negotiator for District 143.

Airline wants extensive outsourcing
In its bankruptcy filings, Northwest wants $997 million in concessions from the unions representing pilots, flight attendants and ground workers.

The airline’s plan includes additional job cuts, additional wage and benefit cuts, and extensive outsourcing. For example, it wants to create a new feeder airline in which nonunion pilots fly planes that carry fewer than 100 passengers. It wants to create a new company using nonunion ground crews at most airports outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit. It wants only foreign flight attendants to staff all international flights.

The new, nonunion companies are “just a way for them to outsource our jobs,” Peterson said. “It’s creating another entity out of what we created. They’re creating a satellite company that’s essentially doing the work we’ve been doing. It’s outsourcing.”

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