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Posted on Thu, Feb. 23, 2006
Northwest chief: Progress made with pilots on sticking points
MINNEAPOLIS - Northwest Airlines Corp. and its pilots have agreed to a framework that would allow the airline to increase regional jet flying and save pilots' jobs, though pay issues remain unresolved, according to a published report.
Chief executive Doug Steenland told the Star Tribune for a story published Thursday that the deal "addresses the pilots' concerns over jobs, outsourcing and making sure that the replacement aircraft for the DC-9 gets flown (by Northwest pilots), and that represents significant progress."
The "lions share" of job-protection issues have been resolved, including saving pilot jobs in the event of a merger, the sale of part of Northwest's business or code-sharing arrangements with other airlines, he said.
Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest is Michigan's leading passenger air carrier and handles a majority of travelers at its Detroit Metropolitan Airport hub.
Northwest and the Air Line Pilots Association have been negotiating since early January and the pilots are taking a strike authorization vote that concludes Tuesday.
If the pilots and flight attendants fail to reach agreements with Northwest by Friday, a bankruptcy judge could void their existing labor contracts and allow the airline to impose new pay rates and work rules. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper also could give the parties a second extension to conclude their talks.
Northwest intends to replace its DC-9s, which are more than 30 years old, with Bombardier or Embraer regional jets. The company wanted to shift those regional jets to a new subsidiary, but the pilots have said there will be no deal if pilot jobs are outsourced.
"This regional jet flying issue is so crucial to our careers that any negotiated agreement that would lose any of that flying would be a significant setback for our pilots," said Wade Blaufuss, a spokesman for the union's Northwest branch.
Steenland pledged to continue working with Duane Woerth, president of the parent union, to win congressional approval of a bill that would give Northwest more time to make contributions to its underfunded pension plans.
The pilots previously agreed to freeze their pension plan at current benefit levels. They are in negotiations with Northwest concerning the company's contributions to 401(k)-style plans for future retirement benefits.
The pension changes are among several concessions the pilots have accepted. In 2004, the pilots agreed to a 15 percent pay cut. Since mid-November, an additional interim pay cut of about 24 percent has been in effect.
Now, Northwest wants $358 million in annual concessions in a long-term contract.
Steenland acknowledged "there are still significant open issues that we have to address," including bridging the gap between the two sides on the total concessions. "We remain hopeful that we'll be able to reach agreement," he said.
Blaufuss said the pilots also want a negotiated deal, an outcome he stressed depends largely on the airline's management. "If Northwest does not back off from the remaining open issues, then they can expect us to do what's necessary to defend our careers," he said.
Meanwhile, negotiators for the Professional Flight Attendants Association are "slowly" moving toward an agreement with management, but the union remains at odds with Northwest over the hiring of foreign workers, said Andy Damis, the attendants union's secretary-treasurer.
The union also is still bargaining on job protection issues.
Northwest Airlines Corp.: http://www.nwa.com
[Edited 2006-02-23 09:39:24]