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Northwest workers accept new contract

Baggage handlers and ramp workers at Northwest Airlines have approved concessions aimed to help the carrier emerge from bankruptcy.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Baggage handlers and ramp workers at Northwest Airlines Corp. on Friday approved concessions aimed at helping the carrier emerge from bankruptcy protection.

The same workers had rejected an earlier set of concessions. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents the workers, said the renegotiated deal wasn’t quite as bad as the first one.

The IAM approval leaves only flight attendants without a concessionary deal among Northwest’s large unions. But none of the new contracts take effect until they all do.

The new contract with the baggage handlers and ramp workers passed with 62 percent of the vote. It cuts wages 11.5 percent and allows Northwest to lay off roughly 700 workers. The IAM has said Northwest once sought to lay off as many as 3,100 of its members.

Northwest will save $190 million a year on its new pacts with 12,200 IAM-represented workers, including ticketing and reservations workers who approved their own concessions in March.

The five-year deal approved on Friday allows Northwest to outsource some ground work such as baggage handling and equipment operating at stations with few flights, although the carrier agreed to keep IAM workers at the 40 airports where it has the most flights. It allows Northwest to outsource food catering and loosened rules about part-time workers.

Other changes include reducing pay by 25 percent during a worker’s first seven sick days, and the loss of three paid holidays.

However, the new plan includes a profit-sharing proposal too.

“It’s a solemn, gloomy day. No one’s happy about this,” said Bobby De Pace, who runs the IAM branch that includes Northwest employees. “I know our members are not happy. This is something where our members knew there wasn’t much of a choice.”

De Pace said the union made the deal because Northwest might have been allowed to impose terms that would have been even worse.

“We negotiated today so we can negotiate tomorrow,” he said.

Northwest President and Chief Executive Doug Steenland said the company appreciates “the significant financial sacrifices that our IAM employees and their families have made and are continuing to make to help Northwest restructure successfully.”

On Friday afternoon, Northwest and flight attendants met with a bankruptcy court judge in New York on Northwest’s request to throw out their contract and impose its own terms.

The flight attendants have said they might strike if that happens, although the airline is seeking to block that move.