Delta could move more metro jobs to Atlanta

  • Article by: WENDY LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2012 - 9:10 PM

The airline is considering whether to shift jobs with Edina's MLT Vacations, which handles vacation packages.

Delta Air Lines said Tuesday it is considering moving parts of its Edina-based vacation planning business to Atlanta, a decision that could affect an unspecified number of Minnesota jobs.

Over the next several months, Delta said it will evaluate MLT Vacations and determine whether the company will move work to its Atlanta headquarters. MLT employs about 240 people in Edina and has been based in the Twin Cities for nearly 45 years.

The possible move comes as Delta, the dominant air carrier at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, has relocated hundreds jobs to Atlanta in the past year. The airline vowed to keep a strong presence in the Twin Cities following its 2008 merger with hometown carrier Northwest Airlines.

Steve Sear, Delta's senior vice president of global sales, wrote in an April 24 memo to MLT employees that moving some of those jobs south could improve the company's productivity and better align its work with corporate resources.

"In order to ensure long-term success in an increasingly competitive environment, we need to evaluate the business closely and identify opportunities to expand and enhance the MLT business model," Sear said, adding it could take several months before Delta makes a final decision.

Already, MLT's top managers have stepped down because they refused to go to Atlanta, according to the memo. MLT's former CEO Larry Chestler and President Ken Pomerantz are now in advisory roles at the company. John Caldwell, Delta's former managing director of national account sales and specialty sales, was named MLT's new president.

Delta said it is also considering moving some of MLT's information technology work in Edina to the airline's building in Eagan.

"We're always looking at our business to make sure that it's working in the best possible way," said Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton. Talton declined to comment on whether MLT is profitable or provide MLT sales data.

Analysts said they were not surprised by more Delta job relocations. Last fall, the airline paid off a loan early to the Metropolitan Airports Commission, freeing it from its obligations to have at least 10,000 Minnesota employees for Delta and its affiliates. Since then, Delta has moved 400 training and technical jobs from Eagan to Atlanta to cut costs.

"Delta is going to consolidate the jobs wherever they can save money," said Bob Herbst, founder of AirlineFinancials.com. "You can expect that is going to continue to happen."

Earlier this year, Delta said it would consolidate its warehouse operations into one facility in Atlanta. As a result, Delta will shut down its parts warehouse at MSP this month and relocate up to 66 Twin Cities workers to Atlanta.

When Delta started moving jobs to Atlanta, it caused a stir among some politicians because it appeared the airline was abandoning its commitment to the state.

Edina City Council Member Joni Bennett said she wasn't aware of MLT's situation until now.

"I think the loss of jobs from Minnesota is a concern that is shared throughout the state," Bennett said.

But Delta spokeswoman Talton said the airline is committed to keeping jobs in the state, adding Minneapolis is a vital hub. Delta says the total number of its employees in the state is 9,000 and it's been a number unchanged for several years.

"Our Minnesota employment numbers remain stable," she said.

MLT, which organizes vacation packages for travelers, has deep roots in the Twin Cities. It began as a wholesale travel division of a retail travel agency called Mainline Travel in 1969. It was sold in 1985 to Northwest Airlines and later became part of Delta through the 2008 Delta-Northwest merger.

Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712

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