Union leaders said late Friday that they would let striking Northwest Airlines mechanics vote on the carrier's latest offer, which would save the jobs of only a fraction of those who walked out nearly two months ago.
As it now stands, the offer might preserve 500 of the 4,100 jobs that members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association held when they went on strike Aug. 20, the union said.
"This was AMFA's negotiating committee making a very difficult decision to allow the AMFA membership to have a say in this process," said Jeff Mathews, contract coordinator for the union.
Union negotiators received the offer during meetings Thursday and Friday in Minneapolis. Neither side described the meetings as negotiations. Mathews said the ratification process would take 14 days once the union receives the full text.
"We are pleased that the AMFA leadership is giving employees the opportunity to vote on the proposed terms of an agreement," Northwest said in a statement Friday night.
AMFA's leaders rejected a Northwest offer Aug. 19 that would have preserved 2,750 mechanics jobs and pay up to 26 weeks of severance for 1,350 mechanics, cleaners and custodians targeted for layoffs. In September, negotiators rejected a proposal that would have kept 1,080 mechanics jobs and pay up to 16 weeks of severance for those laid off.
According to Mathews' statement, posted on AFMA's Web site, the airline's latest offer includes only four weeks of severance pay.
Before the strike, the average Minneapolis mechanic at Northwest was making about $70,000 per year. Under Northwest's latest proposal, returning workers would make about 25 percent less.
AMFA had counted on the strike crippling Northwest. But the airline spent an estimated $100 million lining up outside vendors and replacement workers and managers, and has continued to fly.
Mathews declined to speculate on how the ratification vote would go.
"Quite possibly this could be your last vote on this property and your opportunity to tell the company and the industry where you stand," Mathews said. "This is not a sellout by AMFA or your negotiating committee; this is a chance to vote your destiny."
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The airline's new proposal includes a 28 percent pay cut and cutting about 75 percent of the workforce.
Talks broke down Sunday over severance pay issues, prompting the union to leave the bargaining table with no deal and no talks scheduled.