- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

American Airlines' flight attendants gave the world's largest airline a reprieve from bankruptcy yesterday by changing their minds to accept lower wages and benefits.
Airline officials said before the final vote count they would file for bankruptcy immediately unless the flight attendants and two other major unions agreed to the concessions.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) said 10,761 votes were cast for the concessions package yesterday and 9,652 against.
"This has been a race against the clock," said Don Carty, chairman of AMR Corp., American Airlines' Fort Worth, Texas-based parent company. "My thanks go to the union leadership and to all our employees who recognized the urgency of our financial crisis and rose to meet the challenge."
The vote marked a reversal from one day earlier, when flight attendants narrowly rejected the package of layoffs, wage cuts and reduced benefits.
But the union and company extended the balloting, saying some workers had encountered difficulty in voting and that it was a last shot at avoiding bankruptcy.
In trading yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange, AMR shares rose 83 cents to $4.23 in anticipation the flight attendants would reconsider. In after-hours trading, the shares surged another 13 percent.
The world's biggest airline asked its three main unions to approve the bulk of $1.8 billion in annual labor cuts. Pilots and ground workers approved their share of the cuts by the Tuesday deadline.
But the company cautioned that even with ratification of the agreements, American's financial condition is weak and its prospects remain uncertain.
Mr. Carty warned that the company is not yet "out of the woods," and "that given the hostile financial and business environment we find ourselves in and its inherent risks, the success of our efforts is not assured."
The accords with the three unions are far-reaching and touch nearly every aspect of pay, benefits and work rules.
The company has also announced changes to pay, benefits and work rules for all nonunion employees, including agents, representatives, planners, support staff and management
The deadline for the extended vote was 6 p.m. yesterday. Voting by telephone was heavy, the APFA reported.
As the deadline approached, tempers flared among APFA members who said the company was trying to coerce them to accept the concessions.
Flight attendants reported being overwhelmed with leaflets from management describing the voting process. Other employees confronted them with leaflets at airport terminals, as they departed planes and as they arrived at hotels.
In response, APFA President John Ward faxed a letter of protest to American's director of employee policy and relations.
"We have received numerous reports of widespread company interference and coercion in the ongoing ratification process since the determination was made to extend the APFA balloting period," the APFA letter said.
"The [airlines] actions violate the rights of APFA and the flight attendants it represents under the Railway Labor Act and are directly undermining the ratification balloting. As I informed you last night, this conduct must stop immediately."
American officials denied any violations of the Railway Labor Act. They said they were merely trying to communicate with employees on issues of mutual concern.
Pilots and mechanics ratified more than $1.4 billion in concessions Tuesday. However, a vote tally by the flight attendants failed to approve the additional $340 million the airline said it needed to avoid seeking Chapter 11 protection from creditors.
The 26,000-member APFA rejected the concessions by 533 votes in the first count. There were 19,151 votes cast Tuesday morning.
The slim vote against ratifying concessions gave American and union officials hope for a different result by extending the deadline.
"So that there is absolutely no confusion or uncertainty, I must make completely clear that if we fail to secure flight attendant ratification by tomorrow, we are regrettably left with no alternative but to immediately file for bankruptcy," Mr. Carty said after the first vote Tuesday.
He said the airline's scheduled loan repayments could not be made without the employee cost reductions.

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