<B>AA In Strike Countdown</B>
By David Jonas
American Airlines and its passengers face the prospect of a flight attendants strike at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, following the National Mediation Board's move to release the carrier and the flight attendants union into a 30-day cooling-off period. The countdown period began June 1, a few days after the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing 23,000 flight attendants at American, rejected a proffer of arbitration by NMB on a new contract. The union already has overwhelming approval from the rank and file to strike when necessary.
For its part, American management, which earlier had accepted NMB's offer, stated disappointment in APFA's rejection and again cited President Bush's position of averting any major airline strike by appointing an emergency board. American stated its willingness to match any flight attendant contract in the industry, "if the APFA believes our contract offer is not the best."
Because of Bush's intervention in a dispute between Northwest Airlines and its mechanics earlier this spring, and indications he would have done likewise if negotiations failed last month between Delta Air Lines and its pilots, many industry observers doubt a strike at American will occur. However, the two parties reportedly remain $200 million apart in their contract proposals. The current flight attendants contract became amendable in November 1998.
Narrowly avoiding a presidential emergency board, Delta and its mainline pilots, represented by the Association of Air Line Pilots, last month reached a tentative contract now under consideration by the rank and file. The fate of the industry-leading offer will be known next week, when telephone ballots are tallied. A landslide vote in favor of the pact, like the overwhelming approval given by United Airlines pilots on their agreement last year, is not expected, though many observers are predicting approval.
Meanwhile, Delta's subsidiary Comair--grounded all spring by a pilots strike--continues to shed staff, planes and facilities. With the regional carrier's remaining fleet idle at least through July, other airlines have come in to fill the service void at its Cincinnati hub, including Air Canada, Atlantic Coast Airlines, Delta's ACJet and Mesa Airlines. As the strike continues, it could cause irreparable damage to Comair and force Delta to rethink the carrier's future. A new round of talks was scheduled for late last week.
At United, 30,000 workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 141 last month requested of NMB a release from mediated talks to begin a 30-day cool-off period before a possible strike. NMB has yet to grant that request. The union dismissed management's latest proposal as "insulting" and said future negotiations are "pointless." The customer service, ramp, reservations, food service and security employees join 15,000 IAM-represented machinists who already had asked NMB to start the clock on a cooling-off period. "We will not stand by silent while United makes large aircraft purchases, expands regional jet service and promotes multibillion-dollar acquisition proposals," said Randy Canale, district president and lead negotiator.
United is seen as the initiator in this latest round of industrywide labor strife. Its enormous landmark pilots contract last year set a new standard and has prompted other labor groups, both internally and at other airlines, to request more lucrative contracts. Also, its flight attendants still insist they'll strike if United goes ahead with its acquisition of US Airways without first granting concessions to the flight attendants union.
In other labor news, ALPA's executive board approved a merger with the Independent Association of Continental Pilots. ALPA assumed full representational rights for IACP on June 1. Continental Airlines late last year agreed to begin negotiations on a new pilot contract on Oct. 1 of this year, a full year earlier than the amendable date of the existing contract.