Northwest attendants recalled

Bankrupt airline fighting union in court in effort to prevent strike

September 08, 2006|By Bloomberg News

MINNEAPOLIS -- Northwest Airlines Corp. is recalling all 1,131 of its furloughed attendants as it battles in court to keep their union from a strike that might shut down the carrier.

The employees will return to the bankrupt airline Sept. 30, Northwest and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said yesterday. Labor contracts require furloughed airline workers to be called back before new employees can be hired.

The fifth-largest U.S. carrier and the union are awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York on whether the attendants can strike to protest new pay, work rules and benefits imposed by the airline. Marrero temporarily blocked a walkout Aug. 25.

"The current vacancies are created by a number of factors, including some modest operational growth and flight attendant attrition," Northwest said. Spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch declined to be more specific.

The attendants are being recalled from both voluntary and involuntary furloughs that have lasted about a year, and have seven days to respond to recall letters mailed yesterday. Not accepting the recall equates to resigning, the union said.

"Their return indicates Northwest's continued growth and the airline's return to profitability," union spokesman Ricky Thornton said in a Web site message. "The timely recall decision follows Northwest's recent financial gains."

Northwest has experienced "a high number of retirements and resignations over the past several months," and the carrier is expected to hire more attendants early next year as it expands flying, the union said. Northwest now has about 9,300 attendants. Ebenhoch declined to comment on future hiring plans.

The airline posted a second-quarter loss of $285 million, including costs to revise aircraft leases and other bankruptcy-related expenses. Excluding those costs, it had a $179 million profit. It also reported net income of $101 million in July.

Northwest, which sought bankruptcy protection a year ago, has slashed annual labor spending by $1.4 billion, primarily through concessions negotiated with unions. Flight attendants rejected two agreements reached by Northwest and their union, and Northwest got a judge's approval to impose new terms.

The carrier wants to cut total annual spending by $2.5 billion to emerge from Chapter 11 next year.

Last month, Northwest notified its pilots union that it would recall as many as 50 pilots this year and more in 2007. Northwest has 5,000 active pilots and 700 on furlough.

Northwest is offering transfers to some baggage handlers whose jobs are being contracted out to other companies. The airline is eliminating about 719 of those jobs in stages.

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