- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Only an act of Congress or a new labor agreement could stop United Airlines' mechanics from striking when the 30-day cooling-off period that took effect Sunday expires.
"We hope to reach an agreement with United Airlines within the next 30 days," said Joseph Tiberi, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. "If we are unable to do it, we are preparing to strike."
President Bush intervened last month with an executive order to head off a strike by the machinists' union. Under authority of the National Railway Labor Act, he also appointed a Presidential Emergency Board to try to break the two-year labor-contract stalemate.
The board sent a report to Mr. Bush Sunday saying that while United gives good reasons for employees to make concessions to save the airline, it failed to explain adequately why the mechanics should not receive a pay increase.
With the issuance of the report, a 30-day cooling-off period begins. Afterward, union members can strike unless Congress enacts legislation to stop them.
A strike could occur as soon as Feb. 20.
"It's too soon to tell," said Mr. Tiberi. "We negotiated last week, but we didn't get where we need to be. Maybe with the emergency board's recommendations yesterday, it will help form the basis of an agreement."
Mr. Bush said in a statement Sunday that he "remains concerned about the effect an airline strike could have on the traveling public and on the economy."
United told the emergency board that the travel slowdown after the September 11 attack hurt its business badly. The airline carries a large percentage of business and international travelers. It has been losing $15 million a day, according to the report to the president.
UAL Corp., the parent company of United Airlines, lost $2.58 billion last year, which is more than a quarter of the entire airline industry's loss of $9 billion.
The emergency board recommended that the airline's 10,600 mechanics have their top pay rate increased from $25.60 per hour to $35.14 per hour.
"The IAM-represented mechanics … have shown since at least 1994 their willingness to support the carrier where it counts, in their paychecks," the emergency board's report to the president said.
The report acknowledged wage concessions are necessary for United's survival but said they should be spread evenly across the company.
"The difficulty with the company's initial bargaining position, however, is that it places the brunt of this formidable task on the shoulders of the machinists," the report said. Any wage concessions should be proportional to pay scale, the report said.
"It makes sense for United to largely accept the [emergency board] recommendations, avert a strike and then engage all its unions in discussions for concessions," said UBS Warburg airline industry analyst Sam Buttrick. He said the recommendations "largely endorse the mechanics' position."
Earlier this month, a federal judge refused to block the president's executive order preventing a walkout by United's mechanics.
"The number one goal for United remains clear: to stabilize the company's financial situation and return it to profitability," United said in a statement Sunday. "We have made, and continue to make, major reductions in our operating expenses. The reality is that we must locate other avenues to reduce costs."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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