updated 12/30/2005 4:31:45 PM ET 2005-12-30T21:31:45

A strike by mechanics at Northwest Airlines Corp. entered its 133rd day Friday with no end in sight, after the rank-and-file rejected what one union leader called “the worst contract in the history of airline labor.”

The vote was not expected to have any effect on the operations of the bankrupt airline, which has been flying for weeks with 880 replacement mechanics as well outside vendors.

Union leaders lobbied against the offer, which would not have brought back any of the 4,400 members who went on strike Aug. 19. Instead, it would have reclassified them as laid-off and made those without new jobs eligible for unemployment benefits.

The contract was rejected 57 percent to 43 percent by the 2,223 members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association who voted, the union said.

“Our striking members refused to bow down to Northwest’s arrogant, self-enriching management and will continue the strike against this renegade, union-busting airline,” said AMFA National Director O.V. Delle-Femine in a prepared statement.

He was among the most vocal critics of the deal, which also would have put the strikers first in line for job openings at NWA and would have paid them for accrued vacation time and four weeks of severance pay.

In Dec. 14 letter to members, Delle-Femine called it “the worst contract in the history of airline labor.”

That opinion was shared by many union members. “I didn’t go on strike for a contract like this,” said Mike Bauer of South St. Paul, a Northwest mechanic for 22 years. Skeptical that he’ll ever go back, he’s opened a home repair business.

Some union members crossed the picket lines. Northwest has said the replacements included 280 strikers and 200 laid-off union members.

Minneapolis-based airline expert Terry Trippler of CheapSeats.com said he was surprised the union didn’t take the offer. “My question to AMFA is what now? What’s the Plan B, or Plan C?” he said.

He said the strike remains no more than a nuisance to Northwest, but that might be enough for the airline to offer another deal. “Just to get these people out of their hair, maybe they will sweeten the offer a little bit,” he said.

Steve Sutherland, vice president of AMFA Local 33, said he thought the airline would make another offer because maintenance delays would grow in light of the reduction in personnel and because the strike could complicate its ability to emerge from bankruptcy.

He noted a recent government report that ranked the airline last among major carriers for on-time flights during September.

This was the first time AMFA members have gotten to vote on a Northwest offer since 92 percent of them voted to authorize a strike in July. The union leadership declined to bring previous offers to a vote.

Northwest’s offers got progressively worse for the union beginning with one to retain 2,750 mechanics on the eve of the strike with 25 percent pay cuts. By October it was only offering to keep 500.

The airline filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 14, citing huge increases in the price of jet fuel and the highest labor costs in the industry. The airline said it was losing $4 million a day.

The airline is negotiating with its other unions for another $1.4 billion in pay cuts.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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