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Northwest Mechanics Stay On Strike

Mechanics at Northwest Airlines voted to remain on strike Friday, although the move will have little effect on the bankrupt airline's operations.

Leaders of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association lobbied against the company's latest offer, which would not have brought back any of the 4,400 union members who went on strike Aug. 20.

Of the 2,223 votes cast, 1,258, or 56 percent, of union members rejected the offer while 965, or 43 percent, voted in favor, according to a news release from the union.

The contract would have re-classified the employees as laid-off rather than on the strike. The designation would make those that hadn't found other work eligible for unemployment benefits.

The bankrupt airline has been flying more-or-less normally for weeks with 880 replacement mechanics and outside vendors.

The latest offer would also have paid the strikers four weeks severance pay, accrued vacation time and guaranteed that they would be first in line for future job openings at the airline.

Hundreds of union members have already crossed the picket lines and rejoined the Eagan-based company. Northwest has said the permanent replacements included 280 strikers and 200 laid-off union members.

AMFA members were voting on the contract Northwest imposed when the strike began, not a negotiated settlement between the union and the airline. AMFA National Director O.V. Delle-Femine called it "the worst contract in the history of airline labor."

His Dec. 14 letter to members called the contract "a grave disservice to our members."

In a prepared statement, Northwest said it was disappointed.

"A ratified agreement would have ended the mechanics' strike and allowed both parties to move forward," the airline said. "Ratification would have also provided striking AMFA members with four weeks of severance pay, the ability to collect unemployment compensation and payment for vacation time they have accrued."

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.

Northwest's offers got progressively worse for the union beginning with its offer 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 of them.

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

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