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Workers pour into letters to NWA bankruptcy judge

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Jim Ward knew the paperwork was piling up in Northwest Airlines Corp.'s bankruptcy file.

But on top of the thousands of pages of court documents Ward added his own -- an emotional, handwritten letter to judge Allan Gropper that rails against Northwest managers and the mistakes Ward believes led them into bankruptcy. He even invited Gropper to visit the Twin Cities to see the impact on laid-off workers like him.

"I hope you want to hear all the facts. Because if you don't than I'm no better off than some poor schmuck in some South American country," wrote Ward, a mechanic.

His letter is among dozens of heartfelt correspondences from Northwest workers desperate to catch judge Gropper's ear. Some try flattery. One questions whether he's on the take. One flight attendant even tells him, "I want you to know that I pray for you daily," and asks him to be fair to workers.

Several of the letters profess love for a company they believe has been waylaid by poor management. Northwest, like all older airlines, has struggled in recent years with a punishing mix of high fuel prices, competition from discount carriers, and, in Northwest's case, the highest labor costs in the industry. Northwest and Delta Air Lines Inc. both filed for Chapter 11 protection on Sept. 14.

A letter from Airbus A-320 co-pilot Rick Larson disputed executives' reasons for the bankruptcy filing.

"What we need is true leadership, and right now that leader is you," he wrote to Gropper. Employees will sacrifice, he wrote, for leadership they trust.

Larson recounted how his father, Elwin Larson, worked his way up from the bottom in a 42-year career to become president and CEO of the former Brooklyn Union Gas Co. in New York.

Even after his father reached the top, his son wrote, he took a relatively modest salary.

"The reason that I tell you my fathers story is he is the type of leader that we need at Northwest," he wrote. "If you can find a man of his character and leadership qualities, and an expert in the airline industry ... please send him our way to help this sinking ship." Larson didn't return phone calls after initially agreeing to be interviewed for this story.

Ward now works seven days a week at two jobs after losing his $72,000-a-year-position at Northwest. He said in an interview that he didn't really expect Gropper to see his letter.

But he plans to write again because he feels so strongly that Northwest and other airlines are compromising safety by using outside companies to maintain their planes.