WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush says he will block a possible strike by American Airlines flight attendants if their union can't negotiate a new contract with the parent company.
An existing 30-day cooling off period imposed under the Railway Labor Act expires June 30, leaving the possibility of a strike by the American flight attendants if no White House action is taken.
``The president is concerned that a major airline strike could threaten the economy,'' said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. ``He also wants to assure the flying public that they can enjoy the upcoming Fourth of July holiday without fear that their travel plans will be disrupted by a strike at American Airlines.''
Fleischer said Bush will create an emergency board on June 30 if no settlement is reached _ a move that automatically begins a further 60-day ``cooling-off'' period, during which a strike would be illegal.
Under labor law, the board is directed to begin an investigation into the dispute and offer a nonbinding settlement plan within the 60 days.
The American flight attendants have been working without a new contract for more than two years, complaining of poor pay and work conditions. In February, they voted to authorize a strike. But under federal law, airline employees can strike only if a mediator declares that contract talks are hopelessly deadlocked.
The flight attendants rejected a tentative agreement in 1999. The union resumed talks in early 2000 with a new negotiating team and a tougher stance.
American Airlines and the union representing its mechanics and ramp workers agreed on a new contract on Sunday that provides for immediate base pay raises of 8 percent to 22 percent for different job classifications. Workers would get a 3 percent raise in the second year, and another 3 percent raise during the third year.
Earlier Monday, The National Mediation Board recommended that Bush create an emergency board for the dispute involving The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 23,000 flight attendants. It was a necessary first step that allows the president to get involved.
John Ward, president of The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said Bush was undercutting his union's position.
``The president's announcement, though unwelcome and destructive of the collective bargaining process, was not unexpected,'' Ward said. ``There is no reason the parties should not be able to reach an agreement this week; all it takes is a willingness on the part of the company to finally put the money on the table that is needed to close the narrow gap that remains between the parties.''
American Airlines praised Bush's plan to intervene.
``The administration's action today should strongly reassure the traveling public that there is no possibility that a strike could disrupt our operations during the busy summer travel season, allowing our customers to book American with confidence,'' the company said in a statement.
The action by Bush marks the second time he has stepped in to a conflict between an airline and a union. Bush blocked a strike this spring between Northwest Airlines and its union of mechanics.
Intervention by presidents in airline disputes has been unusual since the Nixon administration, which concluded that labor negotiations were hampered by an expectation that the White House would step in and prevent a strike.
President Clinton appointed an airline emergency board in the 1997 to end a strike by American Airlines pilots just minutes after it began.