- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Flight attendants at US Airways Group Inc. yesterday reached an agreement to cut wages by 9 percent, but the airline still must negotiate a new contract with one more union before it can meet its goal of trimming nearly $1.1 billion in labor costs.

Ratification by the airline’s 5,600 flight attendants will save the company $94 million annually.

“We’re hoping it’s a start to turn the airline around and give them a fighting chance. With this agreement, the flight attendants have given everything they can give,” said Teddy Xidas, president of the Association of Flight Attendants’ master executive committee for US Airways.

Nearly 64 percent of the 4,018 flight attendants who cast votes approved the contract.

Massive wage and job cuts are key elements in the airline’s plan to emerge from its second bankruptcy in two years.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is the only union that hasn’t reached an agreement with US Airways. The union represents about 9,000 mechanics and baggage handlers, and the company is seeking a combined $353 million in wage and benefit cuts from the union.

If there is no agreement on a new contract by today, U.S. bankruptcy Judge Stephen Mitchell could give US Airways authority to annul the contract at a hearing.

But that may lead to a walkout.

Randy Canale, president of the IAMAW’s District 141, indicated this week that the union may walk out if the judge voids the contract.

Arlington-based US Airways will ask Judge Mitchell today to prohibit a walkout, which the company thinks would violate the Railway Labor Act. The law prohibits an immediate strike by transportation workers and forces union and management negotiators to engage in federal mediation.

The union thinks the prohibition no longer applies once a labor agreement is voided.

Negotiations between the airline and the IAMAW are continuing, and they met yesterday after the union submitted separate proposals for baggage handlers and mechanics, IAM spokesman Joe Tiberi said.

Although baggage handlers widely are expected to reach an agreement with US Airways, a deal with mechanics is proving more elusive.

The mechanics are being asked to give up $253 million in wages and benefits, and the company wants to outsource thousands of their jobs.

Baggage handlers are being asked to give up $100 million.

Unions representing pilots, engineers, dispatchers, flight crew trainers, reservation and ticket agents at US Airways have agreed to concessions that will save the airline about $571 million annually.

Concessions yesterday by the flight attendants may have come too late in light of the “operational meltdown” at US Airways during Christmas, said Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm in Colorado.

A combination of bad weather and an unexpected number of employee no-shows forced the carrier to cancel more than 400 flights during the Christmas weekend and separate about 10,000 suitcases from their owners.

About 300 flight attendants called in sick each day during the weekend, and about 240 baggage handlers who work at Philadelphia International Airport called each day of the weekend.

Union leaders have said the sick calls were not part of an organized effort to thwart the airline.

“After the fiasco over the holidays, pay cuts may not be the issue. That ruined the holidays for a lot of people, and it could hurt future revenue,” Mr. Boyd said.

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