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Northwest closes Atlanta facility; jobs transfer to Minnesota
By Bill Catlin
Minnesota Public Radio
October 16, 2002

Northwest Airlines is closing its Atlanta aircraft maintenance facility to cut costs. The company is transferring the work to the Twin Cities. Most of the 1,450 employees in Atlanta are eligible for transfers to other Northwest facilities. Mechanics union officials say the move may result in some recalls of laid off Twin Cities workers, but it's not clear how many.

Jim Atkinson
Jim Atkinson, spokesman for Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 33 in Bloomington, says it's hard to tell right now how the closing of Northwest Airlines' maintenance facility in Atlanta will affect employment in the Twin Cities.
(MPR Photo/Bill Catlin)

In addition to the Atlanta maintenance facility, Northwest is also closing a reservations center in Long Beach, Calif., ticket offices in the Mall of America, Manhattan, and San Jose, Calif. Northwest spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert says about 100 management jobs in Atlanta and Long Beach will be cut.

"These are difficult decisions, of course. It's another necessary step to ensure that our operation is as efficient as possible, and to ensure that the future of Northwest is secure," says Schubert.

The announcement is the latest in a string of cuts. Amid a slow economy and an industry still struggling after Sept. 11, Northwest recently announced it needed to reduce its flight attendant payroll by 1,600. When a new round of furloughs is completed, it also will have laid off 630 pilots.

The Atlanta closing's effect in Minnesota remains to be seen. Officials with Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 33 in Bloomington say they don't expect all Atlanta employees to come to the Twin cities. That may result in some of the 250 laid-off mechanics union members here being recalled.

"Any boost to the employment in the area of air transportation will help the state economy. We have been battered by the decline in travel and by the aftermath of the recession, so that's a good development."

- Jay Mousa, research director for the state Department of Economic Security.

But spokesman Jim Atkinson says it's hard to gauge the numbers. He says some Atlanta workers may retire, others may seek transfers elsewhere in the system, and some may head for the Twin Cities.

"Whoever chooses to do so will have the option of following their work here to Minneapolis. And with all those scenarios, it's very difficult for us to guess how many will end up here in Minneapolis from the Atlanta base," says Atkinson.

Local 33 President Steve MacFarlane guesses that no more than 30 percent to 40 percent of the eligible union members will transfer to the Twin Cities. He says the Atlanta closing runs counter to many mechanics' fears that Northwest would cut back in the Twin Cities.

"It reinforces the belief that not only is the maintenance that is here going to remain here, but we're even going to add to it," says McFarlane. "This does add some stability... instead of a reduction, we're actually going to see an increase in the amount of maintenance being done in Minneapolis."

Union officials say they recently got notice the Twin Cities operation would take on a DC-9 check line that has been outsourced. Union officials say that represents about 60 additional mechanic jobs.

But one laid-off mechanic, who declined to give his name, says the outcome was too up in the air to provide him any reassurance. It's not clear the Atlanta closing will produce a job for him, and he's been unable to find a job after being laid off a year ago.

"As soon as they find out you're a Northwest lay-off they're not interested, because of the fact that you were making so much money here they know you're going to leave as soon as you get recalled," says the mechanic.

But if the effect on individual workers is unclear, Jay Mousa says Northwest's move is good for Minnesota. Mousa is research director for the state Department of Economic Security.

"Any boost to the employment in the area of air transportation will help the state economy," says Mousa. "We have been battered by the decline in travel and by the aftermath of the recession, so that's a good development."

Mousa says employment in the broad industry classification of transportation, communications and public utilities has shrunk more than any other industry -- 7 percent -- over the year ending last month.

But mechanics union officials say it's not clear the last shoe has dropped. They say Northwest may be planning further cost cuts, and a war with Iraq could hurt the industry even further.

Northwest's moves helped buoy the company's stock. Amid a rally in big airline stocks, Northwest's share price jumped 18 percent Tuesday.

More from MPR
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  • Northwest cuts back after terrorist attacks (Sept. 2001)