United faces strike threat
April 3, 2001: 1:50 p.m. ET

Flight attendants want more pay before approval of U.S. Airways deal
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Flight attendants voted to approve a strike at United Airlines Tuesday, as the world's largest carrier vowed a court fight to keep them on the job.

The Association of Flight Attendants said its members voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike if United parent UAL Corp. tries to close its deal to buy U.S. Airways without giving the union a significant jump in pay.

The union said the merger, which would combine about 26,000 United flight attendants with about 10,000 at U.S. Airways, would be a unilateral change in the current 10-year contract between the airline and the union, and would open the door for a strike.

graphic"Our lawyers say a strike is legal and we will strike if United breaks the law," said Dawn Deeks, spokesperson for the union.

The airline said that since the union's contract is in place to 2006, it has no right to even be talking about a strike.

"There is no legal avenue for them to take any kind of labor action," said Andy Plews, spokesman for the airline." If that occurs, then we've made it very clear to them that we would take legal action. Clearly there are disciplinary avenues open to the company as well."

Deeks said the company gave its pilots union an industry-leading pay package last summer in return for winning its agreement for the merger. But the pilots contract was open for negotiation at time, unlike the current fight attendants contract. Plews said that the Air Line Pilots Association also won a large increase because the union agreed to a concession in the previous contract in return for participating in an employee buyout of the airline. The AFA members are the only UAL employees who do not have an ownership stake.

Deeks also said that when the AFA negotiated its agreement with the airline in 1996, United agreed to only give a pay level comparable to other carriers, and that it now is promising to give its other union employees industry-leading contracts. She released a letter written by United's director of people services to the president of the AFA unit at United which promises a pay increase in addition to what is in the existing contract.

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The strike vote is only the latest labor woe for both United and the industry. United is also in talks with the International Association of Machinists, which represents about 15,000 mechanics and about 30,000 ramp workers and customer service employees.

Flight attendants have also authorized a strike at American Airlines, the nation's second-largest airline, although no strike date has been set. The National Mediation Board, which oversees labor relations in the airline and railroad industries, would need to find an impasse in negotiations and declare a 30-day cooling-off period before the union would be allowed to strike.

But the NMB declared a cooling-off period last week for talks between ALPA and Delta Air Lines, the nation's third-largest carrier. A strike is possible there on April 29, and the airline has also been hit by a pilots strike at one of its feeder airline subsidiaries, Comair Inc., that started March 26.

Shares of UAL Corp. (UAL: Research, Estimates) lost $1.20 to $31.70 in afternoon trading Tuesday, while shares of US Airways (U: Research, Estimates) were off 61 cents at $34.17. Other airline stocks were also lower, with AMR (AMR: Research, Estimates) down 60 cents to $33.48, and Delta (DAL: Research, Estimates) dropped 58 cents to $38.45. graphic