MINNEAPOLIS – Northwest Airlines Corp. pilots approved a package of deep pay cuts and other concessions that the carrier said it needs to reorganize successfully and emerge from bankruptcy protection.
About 63 percent of Northwest's 4,800 pilots voted to approve the pact. Some union leaders had publicly called on pilots to reject the contract and hold out for a better deal.
Northwest has said the 5 1/2-year pact will save it $358 million a year.
"At this point, it is incumbent upon Northwest management to not squander our significant sacrifices, but to intelligently pursue a course that enables us to emerge from bankruptcy as a proud and profitable airline," said Mark McClain, chairman of the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, in a prepared statement.
The union said the contract will not take effect until other unions ratify their own contracts.
Baggage handlers voted down Northwest's wage-cut proposal, and a hearing is set to begin in bankruptcy court May 15 to determine whether Northwest can throw out that contract and impose its own terms. Flight attendants will be voting through June 6 on their own wage-cut proposal.
The pay cuts for Northwest workers range from 11.5 percent for ground workers to 24 percent for pilots. Pilots also took a 15 percent pay cut in late 2004.
Just as importantly, the new deals include major work rule changes. For pilots, that includes allowing Northwest to start a subsidiary to fly jets with up to 76 seats.
"There has never been a more important decision placed before NWA pilots," the union told its members on Friday.
Negotiators made the deal on March 3 after tense talks that included strike threats from the pilots and the risk that a bankruptcy judge might allow Northwest to impose its terms on the union.
But passage wasn't assured. Although McClain endorsed it, the union's governing council made no recommendation. And the head of its largest Northwest local, in Detroit, recommended that pilots vote against it.
Northwest filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 14 and has been seeking $1.4 billion worth of annual cost savings from all its unions.