United, ramp workers reach tentative contract agreement

Friday, April 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ United Airlines and the union representing 25,000 ground workers reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday after 28 months of negotiations, a spokesman for the carrier said.

The tentative settlement would give many of the carrier's baggage handlers and customer service representatives their first raise since 1994 if they ratify the deal.

In addition to ramp workers and customer service representatives, the agreement covers food service workers, security guards and newly organized employees of Mileage Plus Inc., a subsidiary of United Airlines.

The proposed four-year agreement includes pay and pension increases that would place the salaries of United union workers at the top of the industry. Union members could vote on the proposal within three weeks.

``These agreements provide recovery for United's front line employees,'' lead union negotiator Randy Canale said. ``We kept our promise to restore wages and benefits for thousands of employees who made sacrifices to support this airline during the past eight years.''

United CEO Jack Creighton said with the agreement, the airline's customers should be reassured it will operate without disruption.

The deal is ``a critical milestone in developing a recovery plan that meets the needs of passengers, preserves jobs, and puts the company on the road to financial stability,'' he said.

A deal would get the nation's No. 2 carrier over the last hurdle it needs to clear before entering a critical phase of its financial recovery plan: trying to get workers at the majority employee-owned company to agree to pay concessions.

United contends the cuts are necessary to help it end two years of unprofitability, including losses of $510 million in the first quarter and an industry-record $2.1 billion last year.

But the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers _ United's biggest union, representing close to half of its 80,000 employees _ has refused to talk about possible concessions until pending contracts were settled and ratified.

The ground workers' contract came up for renewal in July 2000 and was on the verge of settlement before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Because of the dropoff in airline travel, already-ailing United promptly laid off 20,000 workers and eliminated about 30 percent of its daily flights.

United's 13,000 IAM-represented mechanics and aircraft cleaners ended a two-year contract dispute March 5, ratifying an agreement that was reached just ahead of a strike deadline.