Wage cuts Northwest Airlines imposed on its mechanics were not so unreasonable that the workers were forced off the job, an unemployment law judge decided Monday.
The decision means that the approximately 1,500 mechanics in Minnesota who have been on strike against the Eagan-based airline since Aug. 19 are not eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
The mechanics, together with Northwest's cleaners and custodians, all are part of the same union, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. An attorney for the union had argued in a hearing last week that pay cuts imposed on union members were so deep that the striking workers effectively were forced off the job.
Under state law, if employees in a labor dispute are faced with employment terms that are so unreasonable that they had no choice but to leave, they are eligible for unemployment pay.
Before the strike, mechanics were earning $21.43 per hour to $33.05 per hour. Under the new terms imposed when the strike began, they would be earning $15.92 per hour to $24.56 per hour. "This is a significant cut in earnings," Richard E. Croft, a state employment law judge said in his decision. "However, the cut in earnings and changes in other working conditions were not so unreasonable that these workers had to leave."
A 25 percent pay cut, he said, would not have such a harsh impact that the same cut would have on lower wage workers such as the airline's cleaners and custodians, who also are on strike.
On Friday Croft issued a decision that the pay cut was harsh enough for the custodians and cleaners that it amounted to a lock out. In other words, they were forced off the job. The decision means an estimated 700 striking cleaners and custodians in Minnesota can collect unemployment pay.
Nicholas Granath, the attorney for the mechanics union, also had argued mechanics should be eligible for unemployment because the airline has permanently replaced them. The judge ruled the strike remains in effect.
Northwest had no comment on either decision.
Granath said the union plans to appeal Monday's ruling.
Julie Forster can be reached at email@example.com or 651-228-5189.
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