September 30, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — The flight attendants union has anticipated cuts for months, but has only just learned the severity. According to the Professional Flight Attendants Association, Northwest's plans would cut the union's membership nearly in half.
The airline has proposed hiring more foreign nationals to fly international flights, and farming out more domestic flights to regional carriers.
The company wants to cut the salaries of the remaining flight attendants by an average of 17 percent. Union spokesman Peter Fiske says the proposed cuts would strike deep.
"People with 10, 15 years experience would certainly be on the bottom of the food chain if the bankrupcty judge would agree to something like this," says Fiske. "But we're hoping the judge has a fair mind and a fair heart, and will be able to see that there's another road map to achieve what both sides need to achieve."
A Northwest spokesman says there is a menu of ways to achieve the savings the company needs, including changes to wages and work rules. Negotiations will determine how the savings are achieved.
If Northwest and the union can't come to agreement on a new contract, the bankruptcy judge could impose new employment terms.
Northwest has the highest labor costs in the industry. The company says it's is losing $4 million a day, and is trying to reduce its annual labor costs by $1.4 billion while in bankruptcy.
The pilots union has said Northwest wants to cut nearly 1,300 pilots from the payroll by next May. The union representing ground workers, Northwest's largest, is likely facing major job cuts, but the number remains unclear.
In New York, Northwest executives told creditors their plan for bringing the company out of bankruptcy involves total cost savings of up to $2.5 billion, and starting a subsidiary that would fly smaller planes.
For some flight attendants, like Jarrod Anderson, a layoff won't come as much of a surprise. Anderson has worked at Northwest for 10 years, which puts him close to the bottom of the seniority list.
Speaking weeks before the latest layoff announcement, Anderson was already expecting his airline career to end.
"No more airlines for me. My future at Northwest, it doesn't look like there is one," said Anderson. "And I think most of the people I know have come to accept that. The airline industry -- I don't know if I can say the word -- it's gone to hell."
The flight attendants union says Northwest shouldn't be handing American flight attendant jobs to foreign nationals.
But airline consultant Mike Boyd says other airlines are hiring from abroad. He says it shouldn't be called outsourcing, but it is inevitable.
"That's the economics of the industry, and the only way of doing it," says Boyd.
Boyd says Northwest can pay foreign nationals less and save money on housing, since they already live in Asia and speak the language of many of the passengers.
He says the union flight attendants that do stay with the company, even the most senior, will have to accept pay cuts.
"It's a very tough job to be a flight attendant. My mother was a flight attendant. I've worked as a flight attendant. It's not easy. But the bottom line of it is that we're in an economic situation where some of the benefits that used to be paid can't be paid anymore," Boyd says.
Northwest flight attendant Cathy Koski says taking a pay cut isn't such a big deal for her. The Minneapolis resident talks about her job like it's an addiction that's hard to quit. But she says she may give it up in the next few years, depending on how the new contract turns out.
She's worried flight attendants will get fewer days off and less time to rest overnight between flights.
"But if the work rules change so much that I'm tired all the time, and I've got so few days off to recover and do what I want to do, then it might be time to leave," Koski says.
Koski says if she decides to leave, it will be hard to give up a job that's given her a lot fun.