Delta's MLT Vacations relocating to Atlanta

Airline says 160 MLT workers in Minnesota can keep their jobs -- if they move to Georgia.

In a move to further consolidate its operations and cut costs, Delta Air Lines will relocate its MLT Vacations planning business from Edina to Atlanta, shedding another 160 jobs in Minnesota.

MLT Vacations, which has been based in the Twin Cities for almost 45 years, will move its headquarters over several months. The Star Tribune reported in May that Delta was considering such a move.

As of last year, MLT reported a total of 600 employees, including nearly 240 in Edina. About 80 of those workers, mainly in information technology, will remain in Minnesota. They will be moved to another Delta building near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, said Anthony Black, a company spokesman.

MLT's remaining 160 headquarters jobs will be transferred to Atlanta and are in areas such as marketing, finance, advertising and human resources.

The move is being made to improve operating efficiencies and profitability, Black said.

"Every employee who wants to continue with MLT will be offered a transfer to Atlanta," said Black, who added that it's too early to tell how many workers will accept the offer.

The Star Tribune reported in May that MLT's top managers already had stepped down because they refused to go to Atlanta.

MLT's sales agents across the country will remain in their current locations, as will 300 reservation agents in Minot, N.D., Black said. The relocation of MLT headquarters will begin this fall and conclude sometime "well into 2013."

Mark Phillips, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development was glad to hear that 80 tech workers will stay in Minnesota.

"That is good news, because I thought we were losing the whole deal," Phillips said. "Anytime they move jobs to Atlanta from here it is clearly a disappointment. They have talked to us occasionally about opportunities here. I am not prepared to talk about anything right at this minute. But I don't think it's all one way with Delta."

Bob Herbst, an analyst who founded AirlineFinancial.com, said he thinks Delta could save "tens of millions of dollars long-term" by consolidating MLT into its Atlanta operations and by not replacing workers who don't relocate.

As for the job losses in Minnesota, "This is just one of those unfortunate consequences when you start merging airlines," Herbst said. "I don't think anyone in Minneapolis should be surprised when Delta does this type of move. Moving all the operations they can [to the headquarters] is definitely going to save money and improve efficiencies."

MLT, which organizes vacation packages, began in 1969 and was purchased by Northwest Airlines in 1985. MLT manages Delta Vacations, United Vacations, Aeromexico Vacations and Worry-Free Vacations.

The move of MLT to Atlanta comes after Delta paid off a loan early to the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). The repayment freed Delta from the obligation to have at least 10,000 employees in Minnesota. It employs around 9,000 people in the state now.

MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan called the loss of MLT's jobs from Minnesota "unfortunate news."

He added that there is "nothing" the commission can do to stop the exodus. "Delta paid off the debt that they owed a little over a year ago. And in doing so, they no longer have any kind of employment commitment to the Airports Commission. That was the [only] leverage that we had."

Since Delta bought Northwest Airlines in October 2008, it has moved 400 training, warehouse and technical jobs to Atlanta from Eagan.

ddepass@startribune.com • 612-673-7725 mike.hughlett@startribune.com • 612-673-7003

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