- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

A federal bankruptcy judge in Alexandria yesterday left temporary 21 percent pay cuts in place for union workers at US Airways.

Judge Stephen S. Mitchell denied a request from the Association of Flight Attendants to restore some wages by narrowing the wage cuts from 21 percent to as little as 4.7 percent.

“I do not for one minute discount the hardship that these wage cuts have had” on employees, the judge said after a brief recess to consider the union’s motion. But “I think I made the best decision I could make.”

The judge on Oct. 15 gave the bankrupt Arlington carrier the authority to slash wages for four months in an attempt to help it avoid liquidation.

An attorney for the flight attendants argued that the company’s formula to establish the need for a 21 percent wage reduction was flawed.

“What we have here … is a straightforward miscalculation of the amount the flight attendants should give up,” Robert Clayman said.

US Airways attorney Michael Bernstein dismissed Mr. Clayman’s arguments and said the company’s calculations are accurate and the company needs to keep the deep cuts in place.

“This was a tough thing to do … but the court held that it was the proper thing to do,” Mr. Bernstein said. “The need for this relief is no less than it was at the time” of the hearing last month.

At issue is the amount of money US Airways is saving.

Mr. Clayman said US Airways is saving $700,000 a month in cuts to benefits, not the $60,000 a month it said it is saving.

The company is saving $3.9 million a month through reduced payments to its pension plan for flight attendants, not $900,000 a month, he said.

US Airways wants to save about $5.4 million a month by cutting the flight attendants’ wages, benefits and pensions temporarily. Mr. Clayman said the company is saving more than $9 million a month. With different accounting, he said, wage cuts would not have been so drastic.

But the judge disagreed and the cuts will remain in place through Feb. 15.

Even though the flight attendants were the only labor group asking the judge to restore wages, a decision boosting wages could have been applied to the airline’s other unions.

US Airways continues to negotiate with the 5,400-member flight attendants’ union, the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 6,000 customer service agents, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about 4,700 mechanics and baggage handlers.

US Airways Chief Executive Officer Bruce Lakefield said during a break at the hearing that he is encouraged by the progress of negotiations.

“We’re working hard and they’re working hard,” he said.

Union and management negotiators are working under a tight deadline. US Airways asked Judge Mitchell Nov. 12 to void labor agreements with the flight attendants, customers service agents, mechanics and baggage handlers unless they can reach agreements on new contracts. The judge has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 2.

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