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More outsourcing for Northwest?
Flight attendants contend airline wants non-union workers on overseas flights and smaller jets.
October 26, 2005: 7:55 AM EDT
The flight attendants union says that Northwest Airlines wants to strip work on overseas flights and smaller jets away from the union, prompting concerns among unions across the industry.
The flight attendants union says that Northwest Airlines wants to strip work on overseas flights and smaller jets away from the union, prompting concerns among unions across the industry.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Northwest Airlines, which has already outsourced many jobs formerly performed by its mechanics union to outside contractors and replacement workers, is now looking to make deep cuts in the work done by its unionized flight attendants.

The move is worrying airline unions outside of Northwest Airlines, which worry that if Northwest is successful in stripping more of its work from its unions other airlines will try to follow course in order to trim their own costs.

Northwest, which filed for bankruptcy court protections last month, is seeking to have the bankruptcy judge void its union contracts at a Nov. 16 hearing. It says it needs $195 million a year in cost cuts from the flight attendants as part of the plan to reorganize.

The Professional Flight Attendants Association says the company is seeking to give virtually all flight attendant jobs on international flights to lower-paid foreign workers. The union also says the airline is seeking to have flight attendant positions on planes with 77 to 100 seats done by non-union workers as well.

PFAA estimates that more than 2,000 of its members would be laid off if it lost the right to perform the work the airline now wants to give to non-union flight attendants. That's in addition to any layoffs that will occur due to the airline trimming capacity in the bankruptcy process.

Northwest has not disclosed its negotiating demands other than the cost-cutting target. It says that PFAA represents 8,500 current employees at the nation's No. 4 airline, while the union says it has 10,000 members at the airline, including those on furlough.

The demands on the Northwest flight attendants prompted the Association of Flight Attendants, an AFL-CIO affiliated union, to offer an unconditional, no-strings-attached pledge of resources and support to PFAA, an independent union that does not belong to the AFL-CIO. That offer includes union lawyers experienced in airline bankruptcies, labor negotiators, as well as researchers and analysts.

"The situation at Northwest is potentially devastating to all flight attendants across the country if the company's proposal is met," a statement from AFA President Patricia Friend said. "This non-contract, non-union workforce that Northwest is proposing will show up on every bargaining table in the future if we don't all work together and come to an equitable solution."

The PFAA rank and file voted not to support the strike by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, which started Aug. 20. The lack of support from other Northwest unions hurt AMFA's ability to disrupt Northwest operations and weakened its chances to stop the outsourcing of maintenance work at the airline. Virtually all maintenance work outside of Northwest's hubs in Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul is now done by outside contractors.

The PFAA has called for its members to rally Congress about airline outsourcing Nov. 2, and is calling for members to rally outside the Nov. 16 bankruptcy court hearing in New York.

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For a look at Northwest's bankruptcy filing, click here.

For a look at what Northwest's labor goals mean for organized labor overall, click here.  Top of page

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