CHICAGO (AP) _ United Airlines ground workers approved a labor agreement early Saturday that settles the carrier's last unresolved contract and clears the way for talks on companywide wage concessions.
The pact calls for pay raises totaling 29 percent over four years for United's 25,000 ramp workers, ticket and reservations agents, security guards and food service employees. Union leaders had unanimously recommended ratification.
The contract, hammered out last month, gives the ground workers their first raises since 1994.
United's pilots, mechanics and aircraft cleaners already have received hefty raises during a turbulent two-year period for the airline. But the carrier wants them to give some back to help it cut costs and pull out of the worst financial troubles in its history.
``With this vote, United Airlines takes another major step forward in its quest for recovery,'' chief executive officer Jack Creighton said in a statement. ``Only through the cooperative efforts of all of us at United can we return to our rightful place as the leader in the airline industry.''
Randy Canale, president of Local 141 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said he was pleased with the vote.
``These IAM members can now move beyond the years of sacrifice that marked their employment at United during the past 8 years,'' he said. ``Many employees took substantial pay cuts in 1994 to protect their jobs and prevent a breakup of the airline proposed by previous management.''
Creighton has been involved in talks with union leaders to implement a financial recovery program, which may include temporary pay cuts. He is expected to convene more talks soon, this time including the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which had refused to participate until the ground workers' deal was ratified.
Union spokesman Frank Larkin said the union has agreed to meet with company officials once they have a proposal for wage concessions or other actions. He said it was too early to say what moves might be necessary to help the struggling carrier.
``Any changes would be put to the members for a vote,'' Larkin said. ``Everyone agrees things are changing on a daily basis. We'll want to see what United proposes.''
Creighton scored a key initial breakthrough last month when the powerful pilots' union agreed to work with the airline to develop a recovery program.
The CEO has said he wants to nail down an agreement with United employees before retiring in the next few months. Employees own 55 percent of the carrier and hold three board seats.
The airline has recently been losing $4 million to $5 million a day.