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Picketers sour on NWA offer

Mechanics, custodians and aircraft cleaners picketing outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport say they're hopeful union membership will reject Northwest Airline's latest contract offer. More than 4,000 members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association are on the 59th day of a strike. Officials from the union and the airline met over two days late last week. They couldn't agree on a contract, but union leaders did agree to put the company's offer to the rank and file.

St. Paul, Minn. — Officials with the union did not return calls for this report. But the voice mail for Steve MacFarlane, AMFA's assistant national director, suggests little enthusiasm for the contract his members will vote on: "Northwest and the AMFA negotiating committee have concluded their meetings. A tentative agreement has not been reached, however, the committee has agreed to bring back the company's current offer. Negotiating committee update number 32 is now available on the website."

"This is ten times worse than what we went on strike for in the beginning so it's my hopes and thoughts that this will get at least a 90 to 95 percent no vote."
- striking NWA mechanic Kurt Valentine

The union website says Northwest would offer between 500 to 539 positions to the striking mechanics. The remaining 3,500 workers would be given four weeks of severance pay, down from the 16 weeks offered by Northwest in an earlier contract proposal. The union also said the company intends to continue employing the temporary workers that were brought in when the union went on strike in August. Northwest Airlines issued a statement saying the company is pleased that AMFA has put its latest contract offer up for a vote. The airline, reorganizing now in bankruptcy, says it's losing $4 million a day and is seeking to reduce its labor costs by $1.4 billion a year.

On a bright and sunny Sunday, two groups of mechanics stood outside of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport holding picket signs and waving to the stream of motorists driving by.

Kurt Valentine of Apple Valley has been working for Northwest for 25 years. Holding a weathered picket sign that's dogeared from two months of use, Valentine hopes his fellow union members reject the airline's latest proposal.

"This is ten times worse than what we went on strike for in the beginning so it's my hopes and thoughts that this will get at least a 90 to 95 percent no vote," Valentine said.

Bill Stone, from Hastings, said he doesn't like the proposal because it cuts good-paying jobs. He's also upset that the union members who return to the airline will have to work alongside the temporary workers who were brought in to replace them.

"It makes my teeth grind," Stone said. "I would not want to be in that situation. I will definitely vote no and I will tell all of the fellow technicians that I work with that I would vote no as well. This is unacceptable. Unacceptable. All it is they're trying to bust the union, they're trying to bust AMFA."

Stone says it's unlikely that he would continue working for Northwest if the latest contract proposal is approved. Both he and John Derosier of White Bear Lake say they're picketing because they believe it's the right thing to do.

Derosier says he's frustrated that Northwest is proposing less and less in every contract offer: "It keeps getting worse everytime they come back with something. I know I'm probably not going to get back with the company but I would like to be able to leave with dignity and with the way they keep going, there's no dignity."

Derosier says he's hopeful that the union will reject the proposal. But the AMFA local 33 President Ted Ludwig told the Star Tribune that he's unsure how the vote could go. He said his members who are active on the picket line don't like the proposal but he isn't sure how the other members will vote.

Some of the members on the picket line declined to be recorded for broadcast. They grumbled that Northwest executives were trying to line their own bank accounts by preparing the airline for a possible merger.

Larry Sehnitzler said he's frustrated that very few state politicians, Democrat or Republican, have come out to support them. He also said he's unhappy with Northwest's other unions for not honoring their picket line and those who have been flying Northwest during the strike.

"I just don't think there's much loyalty between the different unions but the general public you know, as long as there's an airplane there with a cheap ticket, they're ready to go," Sehnitzler said. "They're not really concerned about safety unless there's an accident and then they're concerned"

The union said it will schedule a vote two weeks after if receives the full text offer from Northwest Airlines.