Talks continue as Northwest considers layoffs

While talks continue at the U.S. Capitol between the airline industry and legislators, 53,000 Northwest Airline jobs – 21,000 of which are in Minnesota – are in limbo.

Northwest Chief Executive Richard Anderson testified before Congress with other airline officials Wednesday, lobbying for $17.5 billion in federal aid to help the industry recover from last week’s terrorist attacks.

“The very survival of the industry is at stake,” said Doug Killian, a Northwest spokesman. “We’re not talking about a year away, we’re talking about three months away.”

John Wodele, Gov. Jesse Ventura’s spokesman, said the governor and Anderson talked Monday about the possibility of cutting 20 percent of the airline’s employees and routes.

But the state’s Dislocated Worker Program, which has $6 million left until June 30, is not prepared to handle such a massive layoff.

“I don’t think if you took the combined funds of several states we could handle a 20 percent layoff,” said Paul Moe, DWP director.

Under the current funding system, the average individual employed in the DWP receives $3,500 to $3,800 in services per year.

For example, Moe said, if Northwest were to lay off 6,000 employees, the state would spend about $21.9 million in the next year.

Other companies with Northwest contracts will suffer from the cutbacks also, Moe said: “It has a ripple effect.”

Killian said that while Northwest has cut back 20 percent of its routes, employee layoff numbers are speculative until Anderson returns from Washington.

Meetings between the airline industry and the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this week are going well so far, Killian said: “Official leaders do understand the gravity of the situation.”

Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., and Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., are just two of Minnesota’s members of Congress who have pledged to support the airline industry.

“Quick action by Congress will be critical to preventing massive layoffs that would affect thousands of working families throughout our state and our nation,” Wellstone said in a written statement.

Northwest met with union leaders Wednesday and offered flight attendants with at least six years of seniority unpaid, five-month leaves with benefits.

“I think the events of last Tuesday have changed the aviation system as we know it,” said Danny Cambell, president of the flight attendant’s union, Teamsters Local 2000.

Even with the unpaid leave option, Campbell said the union still anticipates layoffs for its 11,000 Northwest flight attendants. He said he expects to know the number of Northwest layoffs today.

Wodele said he hoped the federal government would step in and prevent the industry from going bankrupt, and he doubted the state would be able to help Northwest if federal assistance was denied.

“We should be very careful in getting ourselves out on a limb and offering help before we even know if we can be of help,” Wodele said. “We need to be hopeful the federal government will step in here because this is a national issue and Northwest is just one in many airlines.”


K.C. Howard welcomes comments at [email protected]