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Pilots' leader blasts NWA management

Old 11-16-2005, 02:22 PM
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Default Pilots' leader blasts NWA management

Pilots' leader blasts NWA management
Liz Fedor, Star Tribune
November 16, 2005


The head of the Northwest Airlines pilots union charged Tuesday that the airline's management is using bankruptcy to pressure veteran employees to take excessive pay cuts, and he called some of the executives making the demands "mercenaries."

Mark McClain, chairman of the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), said pilots agreed Monday to temporary pay cuts of 23.9 percent to gain more time to negotiate a long-term contract.

However, McClain said, "It is still a miserable choice." The pay cut is to take effect today, and it comes on top of a 15 percent cut approved last year.

In his first public comments on the cuts, McClain told the Star Tribune that Northwest executives should be making greater sacrifices.

"Some of these guys are mercenaries who come in and command big salaries. They don't do anything innovative or creative or company altering," McClain said.

Since he became CEO in October 2004, Northwest CEO Doug Steenland has hired people for top jobs who previously worked at US Airways and Continental Airlines. Steenland has been at Northwest for 14 years.

"It kind of grates on us for a bunch of carpetbaggers to talk to us about loyalty and saving a company," McClain said.

Northwest did not directly respond to McClain's comments. Instead, the airline said: "We sincerely appreciate the financial sacrifices that our pilot group has made. ALPA leaders understand the need for labor cost reductions and this interim agreement with ALPA provides additional time to reach a final, consensual agreement."

Northwest pilots, with a ratification vote of 64 percent, decided to accept deep pay cuts now to gain two more months of bargaining time for a long-term contract. A temporary pay cut of almost 24 percent will be applied to a pilot salary range of $35,000 to $206,000.

In December, McClain said Northwest managers took pay cuts of 8 to 23 percent to coincide with the 15 percent pay cut that pilots accepted. Next month, top management will take pay cuts of 10 percent.

"For the pilots to have taken a greater pay cut than the top executives of this corporation is inherently unfair and shows a lack of leadership on management's part," McClain said.

In a filing with the bankruptcy court, Northwest has said management compensation is an issue in retaining key executives.

"Cash compensation to officers, including salary and incentive pay, will have been reduced by 31 percent to 40 percent when the latest reductions take effect," Northwest said. During 2005, 11 officers have left the company. Since 2001, Northwest has eliminated 28 officer positions, and it now has 40 corporate officers.

McClain stressed that he believes it is a mistake for Northwest to try to outsource jobs from the key work groups.

Northwest is reducing its in-house maintenance workforce to 880 jobs in the Twin Cities and Detroit. Before the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association called a strike on Aug. 19, Northwest employed about 4,400 mechanics, cleaners and custodians.

Now, Northwest wants to outsource thousands of jobs held by ground workers and flight attendants. It also has proposed creating a subsidiary for the flying of 70- to 100-seat jets.

"We're a service industry, and we rely on the professionalism and experience of our employees," McClain said.

He questioned the viability of a business strategy that places Northwest passengers in direct contact with people who work for third-party vendors. Under that scenario, McClain said Northwest loses the benefit of having front-line employees dedicated to an employer and its customers.

McClain emphasized that management is risking a possible pilots strike if it insists on assigning small jet flying to a subsidiary. Job protection is a top priority for Northwest pilots.

"For Northwest to survive long-term, all employees are going to have to focus on doing their jobs as well as they've ever done them," McClain said. That won't occur if "they feel taken advantage of through the bankruptcy courts."

An airline can't run successfully "with a series of outsourced employees," McClain said. If management pursues that strategy with gusto, he said, it will "lose control of the franchise, of product reliability."

Northwest employees will not accept a rollback of wages to the pay they got 20 years ago, McClain warned. "There is only so far down the rathole that you can chase this career."
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Old 11-16-2005, 02:23 PM
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All I can add is: It's about time!
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