Northwest strikers to vote

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The 14-month strike by 4,000 mechanics, cleaners and custodians at Northwest Airlines may end within 30 days if a majority of the workers, represented by the independent Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, ratify a tentative agreement.

The deal, announced Oct. 9, won’t mean immediate jobs for the strikers, the union said. Instead, members will have the choice of going on layoff and possibly being recalled to a position in the future, or leaving the company and accepting 10 weeks’ worth of separation pay. Workers who crossed the picket line and new hires during the strike will keep their jobs under the terms of the proposed settlement.

AMFA, which ousted the Machinists at Northwest years before, took the workers out on strike rather than agree to $203 million in pay and benefits cuts the airline demanded before it went into bankruptcy last year.

Details of the voting process have not been announced, but it is expected to occur within 30 days, AMFA said. “Ballot information will be sent to each member who is actively on strike status, but not to those who crossed the picket line or to members who previously resigned or retired,” it added. The deal runs through Dec. 31, 2011.

“I am convinced this is the best offer we could get. The membership will decide the future of our strike,” said AMFA Local 5 President Dennis Sutton on his Twin Cities-based local’s web site.

All provisions in the settlement are subject to changes by a bankruptcy court. Northwest has been in bankruptcy since Sept. 14, 2005, about a month after the strike began. The airline has demanded a series of concessions from all employee groups, including pilots, flight attendants and ground workers.

This summer, AMFA estimated 3,551 members remained on strike, 306 crossed the picket line and returned to work, 328 had retired and 184 had resigned.

The strikers got a small boost last month when the Minnesota Court of Appeals overruled the state and said the striking Northwest workers there are entitled to jobless benefits. It said the 25 percent pay cuts demanded by the airline constituted “a constructive lockout,” thus entitling the workers to benefits.

Will the proposed settlement be ratified? In an unscientific poll conducted on AMFA Local 33’s web site, 55 percent of respondents say no, 33 percent say yes and 12 percent have “no idea.”

— Workday Minnesota