- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Arlington-based US Airways plans 552 layoffs this month in a move its flight attendants union says violates labor contracts.

The layoffs, which take effect Jan. 15, include 119 flight attendants from the Washington area. The move is intended to make room for 360 flight attendants returning from voluntary furloughs.

“There will be no additional reduction in work force,” said David Castelveter, US Airways spokesman. “This is balancing the staffing needs based upon flight attendants returning from voluntary furlough.”

However, he said some current employees would lose their jobs. In addition, some furloughed employees would be moved from “voluntary” furloughs to “involuntary.”

“In other words, they will lose their benefits,” Mr. Castelveter said.

The company offered furloughs as an alternative to layoffs while it cut expenses deeply last spring amid a sluggish economy, poor ridership and emergence from bankruptcy.

The layoffs will be based on seniority. US Airways does not plan to offer additional furloughs.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) says its contract requires the airline to offer additional furloughs as a first alternative to layoffs.

“Our legal department is reviewing any and all options surrounding this,” said Bob Kenia, president of AFA Local 41, which represents US Airways flight attendants in the Washington area. “They have blatantly disregarded provisions in our contract that have been there for decades by not offering voluntary furloughs. They have a right in the contract to furlough. They also have a right and an obligation in the contract to offer voluntary furloughs.”

US Airways officials said they are aware of contract provisions requiring offers of furloughs before layoffs.

“But that is not the case here,” Mr. Castelveter said. “We are simply compensating for flight attendants who are returning from voluntary furlough.”

Most of the job cuts will be made in the Philadelphia area and a few others in New York, Boston and Charlotte, N.C., where the airline operates its largest hub.

US Airways employs more than 5,000 flight attendants.

The layoff announcement follows a bankruptcy judge’s ruling this week that said the airline owes $2.1 billion to its pilots’ pension fund, despite US Airways’ efforts to avoid the debt.

US Airways terminated its pilots pension account in March, saying it could neither afford it nor emerge from bankruptcy while paying the full amount.

The company then developed a cheaper pension plan for current pilots and turned over the rest of the terminated account to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency responsible for insuring corporate pensions.

US Airways said $2.1 billion of the $3.3 billion it owed the pension fund was calculated incorrectly using an interest rate that was too low. A correct calculation, the airline said, would mean it owes the fund no more than $900 million of the disputed debt.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Alexandria rejected US Airways’ debt calculation method.

“We respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision, as we believe we used a prudent calculation methodology for the unfunded liability of the pilot pension plan,” US Airways said in a statement. “Over the next week, we will be analyzing the decision and evaluating our appeal alternatives.”

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