Striking mechanics at bankrupt Northwest Airlines Corp. will begin voting Friday on what the head of their union called "the worst contract in the history of airline labor."
The contract would move striking members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association to laid-off status, making them eligible for four weeks of layoff pay and payment of accrued vacation time.
Union leader O.V. Delle-Femine said in a letter to members dated Wednesday that while AMFA's National Executive Committee has a policy of remaining neutral on contract ratification votes, it was breaking that policy in this instance.
He wrote that ratification of the contract "would be a grave disservice to our members. This imposed contract is by far the worst contract in the history of airline labor."
If union members approve the contract and the strike ends, the strikers could get six months of unemployment benefits. They would also get priority for open mechanics' jobs at the airline, although AMFA leadership predicted only a fraction would be recalled.
Voting was scheduled to begin Friday afternoon and continue through Dec. 30.
When the strike started Aug. 20, there were about 4,100 AMFA mechanics, cleaners and custodians on Northwest's payroll.
The airline had offered to retain 2,750 mechanics, but those workers would have seen 25 percent pay cuts. Northwest proposed eliminating the remaining mechanics' jobs, as well as all the cleaner and custodian positions. The carrier offered up to six months of severance for those who'd lose their jobs.
AMFA's leadership did not put that August offer up for a vote by the membership.
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.
Talks continued, but rank-and-file AMFA members also did not get to vote on a September offer that would have saved 1,080 mechanics jobs, or on an October proposal that would have kept more than 500 AMFA members on the job.
Northwest has permanently replaced the strikers, and now about 880 mechanics work in the carrier's Twin Cities and Detroit hubs. About 480 of those mechanics are AMFA members who crossed picket lines and returned to work, or Northwest mechanics furloughed before the strike.
Last month, Northwest confirmed that it had hired all the mechanics it needed for its permanent work force and had shifted the remaining work to outside vendors and another Northwest union.
On the Net:
Northwest Airlines: http://www.nwa.com
Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association: http://www.amfanatl.org/
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