Northwest Mechanic's Union Flags Crossing Strikers

By the union's estimation, about 150 strikers have crossed the picket line and gone back to work in the face of a strike not honored by other unions.

Mike Lutz, 41, a 15-year Northwest mechanic who lives in Robbinsdale, was on the picket line the first full day of the strike. But in early September, he got a job working in his brother's warehouse. He also picked up work doing aircraft welding at a local airport. For a little while he kept up his picketing assignments. He's too busy now with his family and two jobs.

Early on, he decided not to cross the line. His resolve was tested. "After you see people go back, you know, I asked myself again if that was something I wanted to do. I decided I did not want to do that.

"Once you cross the picket line somewhere it tends to follow you for the rest of your life. I didn't want to have that attached to me."

So now preparations are under way to ready strike headquarters for the winter. Mike Klemm, the union's national strike coordinator, is looking for a new location, since the site they are on at is being sold. Then it's business as usual. The strike will "go on until my national director tells me to call it off," Klemm said.

"If that is 10 years down the road, I will still be out there, even if I have a full-time job."

As far-fetched as that may seem, it's not out of the question. "Strikes can go on for years," Clarke, the Washington labor attorney, said. In theory, that's true. There's no legal deadline.

A strike by the International Association of Machinists at the Italian airline Alitalia lasted more than six years, ending in 1999. A strike by IAM workers at Continental Airlines that was later joined by other unions, including the pilots, went on for a year and a half before ending in 1985. At Eastern Airlines, a strike by the IAM ended in 1991 after nearly two years.

Still, ongoing strikes have a way of petering out. Even an attorney for the mechanics union argued in an administrative hearing on unemployment benefits at the end of September that the mechanics strike was no longer in active progress. An unemployment law judge rejected that argument, concluding that the strike remained active until the dispute was officially resolved.

Julie Forster can be reached at or 651-228-5189.

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