Appeals Court Says Northwest Mechanics Eligible for Unemployment

Mechanics who went on strike against Northwest Airlines last year are eligible for unemployment benefits as long as they meet program requirements, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The appeals court said an unemployment law judge was wrong to rule the mechanics were ineligible for unemployment payments. The appeals court said the 25-percent pay cuts Northwest imposed on mechanics constituted a lockout.

The decision means up to 1,600 mechanics could receive payments in about a week. The Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development said that while the maximum benefit would be a total of more than $13,000, many mechanics won't receive the maximum benefit because they got full-time or part-time jobs during the eligibility period.

Still, said Ted Ludwig, president of Local 33 of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the payments open opportunities for mechanics to train for better jobs than they found after the strike.

"Most people found other work," Ludwig said. "But it's just to get by, pay the bills. If they could get into some retraining program that would be just excellent."

The appeals court affirmed a separate decision by an unemployment law judge that custodians and cleaners represented by Local 33 were entitled to unemployment benefits.

The mechanics, cleaners and custodians walked out in August 2005 after rejecting labor concessions sought by Northwest, which kept flying with replacement mechanics. AMFA still considers itself on strike and some members still picket.

State law does not permit unemployment benefits to be paid when a strike is in "active progress." But the Court of Appeals pointed to a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling from the 1980s that says benefits can be granted when there has been a "constructive lockout."

Nick Granath, an AMFA attorney, characterized the decision as a major victory for the union.

"We are vindicated," Granath said, noting that other states have paid unemployment benefits to striking AMFA members. With the appeals court's ruling, he said, AMFA members also will be eligible for job-retraining benefits.

Northwest said it was reviewing the decision and had no further comment.


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