Senate Democratic leaders on labor and aviation issues — as well as both of the party’s presidential candidates — Monday asked Delta and Northwest to include their employees in merger talks.
“As we have seen in the past, support of airline employees is essential to the success of any contemplated merger,” said the letter to the CEOs of both companies. It was signed by 26 Senate Democrats including Health, Education and Labor Chairman Edward Kennedy, Commerce Chairman Daniel Inouye and presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
“The men and women who work hard every day for Delta and Northwest deserve a seat at the table and the opportunity to establish their working conditions,” they wrote. “They also deserve to have confidence that the merger will protect their job security, wages, and pension benefits, not undermine them.”
While some discussions have occurred with the pilots’ union, the Democrats want the two companies “to engage all of the relevant unions and employees in the ongoing merger process.”
They also want union representation at Northwest to continue and “urge Delta and Northwest management to demonstrate a genuine commitment to cooperative labor relations by recognizing and bargaining with a majority of Delta or Northwest workers that identifies a union representative.”
The two airlines must also “remain neutral and not engage in any untoward tactics in future union representation elections, particularly during the election for Delta’s flight attendants later this month,” they wrote.
The letter does not cast judgment on the merger itself, which has received criticism from top Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who announced Monday a plan to hold a hearing in its Aviation Subcommittee on airline mergers for May 14. The House Judiciary Committee’s anti-trust task force will hold a hearing Thursday featuring Delta CEO Richard Anderson and Northwest CEO Douglas Steenland.
A Northwest spokeswoman said via e-mail that the airline “will continue to work closely and communicate openly with all employee groups during the regulatory review process for this merger.” She added, “It will be up to each employee group as to whether they vote for union representation in the merged airline, and that is a process that NWA is not involved in influencing in any way.”
Northwest employees will have collective bargaining protection and “pensions remain secure and are protected by law,” the spokeswoman said.
A Delta spokeswoman said via e-mail, “We agree with the senators that employees of Delta and Northwest must be treated with respect, which is why both companies said all along that it would not pursue a merger unless it was in the best long-term interest of our people.” She added, “Long term, this combination provides employees with job stability, job growth and the opportunity for financial reward.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Democrats say the merger will cost jobs, raise fares and lead to future mergers. Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, whose home state of Minnesota is headquarters to Northwest, said last week that the merger proposal “will be probably the worst development in aviation history” in the aftermath of deregulation of the industry in 1978.
He said it would create “three global mega-carriers” in the United States that will kill off low-fare carriers.
The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to announce details soon of a possible hearing on the merger this spring, while the Senate HELP Committee has nothing planned yet.
This article appears in the April 26, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.