April 11, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Delta to bring back staff

Merger creates need to fill in gaps, recall 'below wing' crews

A Delta official said hundreds of furloughed ramp and mechanical workers have expressed an interest in returning to the company. (Paul J. Richards / Getty Images)

While many of its competitors are contemplating outsourcing work to slash costs, Delta Air Lines Inc. is bringing some jobs back in house.

The company's decision to insource will potentially bring back hundreds of "below wing" ramp and mechanical workers to Delta, jobs usually targeted during market downturns for outsourcing. The initial changes will start in big stations like Dallas/Fort Worth, a former Delta hub, and Phoenix. Eventually, workers in Michigan are expected to be part of the trend, but it's unclear how many workers will be insourced, said Michael Campbell, the company's senior vice president of labor relations.

The change was spurred by Delta's recent merger with Northwest Airlines.

"We have overlapping stations where Delta had its own work force and Northwest had outsourced its jobs and others where Northwest had workers where we had outsourced," Campbell said. "And, as we move forward with the integration, we see an opportunity where we have enough capacity in cities to warrant bringing in our own people to do the work."

While the insourcing process is still in its early stages, Campbell said hundreds of once-furloughed workers with recall rights have expressed interest in returning to the company.

The decision has a number of advantages for Delta. It allows upper management to carefully monitor merger integration at its busiest stations since the insourced workers will be directly managed by Delta. And, in the case of Delta's TechOps subsidiary, which performs maintenance work for other carriers, the change allows continued growth in that division.

Profits from the TechOps division have helped offset recessionary losses on Delta's passenger and cargo operation. Industry analyst Bill Swelbar, a research engineer with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the insourcing -- especially for TechOps -- will help Delta grow during the recession.

"Right now, quickly growing the maintenance division is important," he said. "That's a good revenue stream."

The positions being brought back cover a number of job classifications, from baggage handling to aircraft maintenance and airport customer service. Initially, Delta's move to bring in its own workers will focus on destinations where Delta has a presence but Northwest outsourced thousands of mechanics as part of its 2005 bankruptcy.

Two unions represent tens of thousands of pre-merger Northwest workers -- the International Association of Machinists and the Association of Flight Attendants -- while their Delta counterparts are non-union. The machinists union hasn't yet asked federal labor authorities to set a vote with the combined work groups for union representation; the attendants will file by summer's end.

Campbell said pre-merger Northwest workers on furlough who want to return to work through the insourcing program will be able to after a vote.

Machinists union president Steve Gordon said Delta's insourcing won't affect his organization's efforts to unionize Delta.

"We're not expecting it to have any effect on our campaign to bring union representation to Delta," he said.

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