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TALKS aimed at averting strike go down to the wire

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush says he's ready to use his powers to delay a threatened strike by American Airlines' flight attendants.

In an effort to beat a Saturday midnight deadline and stave off intervention from the White House, negotiators for the two sides worked through Friday night and continued to meet as of midday Saturday.

Negotiations were taking place at the National Mediation Board, which is observing the talks.

The flight attendants have been without a contract for more than two years. The airline has offered a 21.6 percent pay raise over six years, which the union has rejected as inadequate, saying it would still leave American's salaries behind those of Delta Air Lines flight attendants. The American attendants' base pay is between $15,000 and $36,000, according to their union.

If the company and union fail to reach a new contract Bush has said he'll step in and impose a 60-day strike delay and give the federal board the opportunity to propose a settlement. Either side can reject the proposal, meaning that the flight attendants could strike around the Labor Day holiday.

But Bush's promised action meant that American will not have any problems with service during the busy Independence Day holiday.

Bush has vowed to prevent any airline strikes, and has already acted to halt a walkout by Northwest Airlines mechanics in March. The administration threatened to do the same in a dispute between Delta Air Lines and its pilots, but an agreement was reached in May.

The president has gotten strong financial support from the airline industry, and American in particular. American Chairman Donald Carty or the airline contributed $100,000 to Bush's inaugural committee, $5,000 to his Florida recount committee and $1,000 to his presidential campaign. Overall, American contributed $328,434 last year, while the flight attendants' union gave $15,900.

American Airlines was a sponsor of a recent Republican fund-raising dinner featuring Bush, giving $100,000 for the dinner, which raised more than $20 million. The Air Transport Association, the trade group for the major airlines, including American, contributed $75,000.
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