U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Monday that she's concerned about the potential loss of jobs and air service if Northwest Airlines merges with another carrier.
She expressed those worries in a Sunday phone conversation with Northwest CEO Doug Steenland, who told his workforce in an internal memo Friday that the "right transaction" could benefit employees and the communities that Northwest serves.
In a Monday interview, Klobuchar said that Steenland did not say whether Northwest and Delta Air Lines are engaged in merger talks.
"I am very concerned about any merger that would hurt our state," Klobuchar said. She added that she views her role as protecting the interests of Minnesota airline employees and consumers.
A possible Northwest merger has drawn bipartisan concern. U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said in a statement Friday that he "will be keeping a close watch on any merger proceedings and will advocate for the Twin Cities' long-term role as a headquarters and major hub."
Coleman noted that Northwest serves as Minnesota's "connection to the world."
Klobuchar said that she is not taking a blanket stance against mergers. She emphasized that "you can't comment on [a merger] in a vacuum" and that she will reserve judgment on any Northwest merger until she sees the details of a deal.
Delta's board of directors met Friday to discuss whether to authorize Delta CEO Richard Anderson to enter formal merger negotiations with Northwest, United Airlines or both.
Delta and Northwest maintained their codes of silence Monday on the merger topic.
Klobuchar, who serves on the Senate Commerce Aviation Subcommittee, said Steenland told her that the Twin Cities "hub is a very big asset here and something that should continue" in the event of a merger.
Many airline analysts also maintain that the Twin Cities hub would be preserved even if Northwest is acquired by Atlanta-based Delta, which is led by former Northwest CEO Anderson.
Northwest now employs about 12,000 people in Minnesota, and Klobuchar said she told Steenland she wants to retain as many of those jobs as possible -- from the headquarters in Eagan to the reservations call center in Chisholm.
In her conversation with Steenland, she said, "He talked about the challenges of the airline industry with the escalating fuel prices."
Meanwhile, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) notified Northwest ground workers on Monday that the union "has not been informed [by Northwest] of any discussions with any carrier."
Stephen Gordon, president of the IAM's District 143, told his members that the IAM has a "transportation merger team to protect the interests of IAM members affected by airline mergers."
He emphasized that the IAM has employee representatives, attorneys and economists ready to evaluate any merger deal that may be proposed.
Delta's ground workers and flight attendants are not members of unions, but the Air Line Pilots Association represents pilots at Northwest and Delta.
The U.S. Department of Justice would analyze the consumer effects of a merger proposal.
On the state level, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is focused on how a Northwest merger would affect Minnesota's economy -- tapping two officials to monitor Northwest merger talks.
The state's merger panel will be led by Jack Lanners, chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and Dan McElroy, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Liz Fedor • 612-673-7709