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Northwest mechanics could end strike with vote

Striking Northwest Airlines mechanics said on Monday they will vote on a deal that would end their walkout and result in all of them being laid off, a move that should pave the way for them to get unemployment benefits.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Striking Northwest Airlines Corp. mechanics will vote on a deal to end the walkout, their union said Monday. If approved, it would give the airline what looks like a total victory.

If union members approve, strikers would be laid off and placed in line for jobs behind the permanent replacements Northwest hired during the strike. Strikers would collect four weeks of layoff pay and Northwest agreed not to fight their claims for unemployment benefits.

“That’s not what I struck for,” Local 33 strike coordinator Mike Klemm said. He said he would vote against it.

The 115-day strike began Aug. 20 when more than 4,000 mechanics, cleaners and custodians walked out rather than accept deep layoffs and pay cuts. Northwest kept flying, eventually hiring 880 permanent replacements and giving the rest of AMFA’s work to outside vendors.

Northwest has said the permanent replacements included 280 strikers and 200 laid-off union members.

Those replacements will keep their jobs, and strikers on a recall list would have a right to new openings, the union said.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association said the vote would be conducted electronically. A timetable had not been set. Members who had crossed the picket line would not be allowed to vote.

AMFA has not allowed members to vote on earlier Northwest offers, including one that would have brought 2,750 mechanics back to work.

This vote is “a way to give our membership a say-so in their future,” said AMFA contract coordinator Jeff Mathews. He said the union would not recommend that members vote one way or the other, in keeping with its practice on all contract votes.

In Minnesota, laid-off strikers would be eligible for government unemployment benefits as soon as they apply, said Department of Employment and Economic Development spokeswoman Kit Borgman.

“We are pleased that the AMFA leadership has announced a ratification vote on the latest contract proposal,” Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said. “A ratified agreement would end the mechanics strike and allow both parties to move forward.”

University of Minnesota labor professor John Remington said putting the deal out to a vote was the responsible thing for AMFA to do.

“If it passes, it puts the people on strike in an infinitely better position,” he said. “Right now they’ve got a strike that really isn’t going anywhere.”