Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio


St. Paul, Minn. — During a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing yesterday on Delta's proposed acquisition of Northwest, the CEOs for the two airlines offered extensive assurances about jobs and air service in the state.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pressed Delta CEO Richard Anderson to disclose what the combined airline would do in Northwest's home state.

Anderson ticked off most of Northwest's major operations in the state, and he said they would stay, along with the jobs that go with them.

"The reservation facility in Chisholm and the reservation facility in Minneapolis. The pilot base, the flight attendant base," Anderson said.

Klobuchar contined, "Right and there's about 2,200 flight attendants based in the Twin Cities."

Again Anderson responded, "Right."

Klobuchar continued to ask him, "And 1,000 aviation mechanics. And then the pilot training facilities. Anderson: And then the simulator technicians that support those. Those plus the data center in Eagan, Minnesota, are all included in what we intend on keeping in Minnesota."

Klobuchar questioned Northwest CEO Doug Steenland about the combined airline's service for communities in outstate Minnesota.

"Fargo, Grand Forks, Thief River Falls, Bemidji, International Falls, Chisholm, and Hibbing. Duluth, Brainerd, St. Cloud, Rochester. Do you envision that the service to those areas will change as a result of the merger," Klobuchar asked.

Steenland responded, "No."

The airlines have previously said that air service at the Twin Cities airport would be maintained or increased.

It seems the one big potential loss for the state would come at Northwest's Eagan, Minn., headquarters.

The combined airline's headquarters would be in Atlanta, and there'll be about 1,000 job cuts among people currently working at the two airlines' headquarters. Anderson said it hasn't been decided how the job cuts will be allocated between Eagan and Atlanta.

While it appears Minnesota would fare well with the combined airline, Steenland cautioned that could change. He emphasized events such as a terrorist attack or a big drop in passenger traffic could force a change in plans.

"We have to recognize that there are variables out there that are completely outside our control. And it doesn't mean that we were misleading. It doesn't mean that we were, you know, sort of not stating truthfully what we saw today," Steenland said. "It means there's been a sea change, a change in the external world that changes how this business needs to be run if it's going to stay in business."

Labor leaders said they don't trust Delta and Northwest execs to keep their word or to treat employees fairly.

Patricia Friend, International President of Association of Flight Attendants, said Delta and Northwest want the combined company to be largely free of unions, as Delta is now.

"These airline executives have seized the opportunity they see in this merger, not only a chance to prevent thousands of non-union employees from gaining a union, but a chance to eliminate the unions that already provide protection for their members at Northwest," Friend said.

Northwest and Delta insist they'll respect employee wishes on unionization.

Approval of the Northwest-Delta merger rests with the U.S. Department of Justice, not Congress. But political leaders hope they can influence the Justice Department's decision, as well as any conditions that could be put on a merger. It's expected the Justice Department will rule on the merger by year's end.