Journey’s end

When is a strike over? By one union’s measure, it’s not over until the last picket leaves. And by that measure, the mechanics strike against Northwest Airlines may never end, even though the airline has replaced many members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, which walked off the job in August, about a month before Northwest went into bankruptcy reorganisation. Northwest said it was prepared and would fly through and around a strike, and it was and did.

But the union continued to picket, even up until New Year’s Eve, when its remaining 2,223 members voted 56% to reject a contract offer that would have meant the end of the strike. Strikers stood to get four weeks of severance pay and compensation for any vacation time they had on the books.

With a settlement, all strikers who had not taken other jobs would have been eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Northwest said it would not contest their claims.

But Northwest offered strikers no jobs, only limited recall rights down the road. The airline has outsourced most of the strikers’ work and hired permanent replacements to do the aircraft maintenance that it is keeping in-house. Of the 880 mechanics that Northwest is keeping in-house to maintain its planes, 280 are strikers who crossed union picket lines and 200 are Northwest mechanics who were laid off before the strike. They are working under a contract that slashed wages by 26% from pre-strike levels. Meanwhile, about 100 pickets continue to walk the line, because the strike is never over for them.

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