MEXICO'S largest airline closed by strike

Saturday, June 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The union for AeroMexico's flight attendants went on strike early Friday, grounding more than 250 daily flights and stranding thousands of passengers.

AeroMexico said it has placed additional customer service personnel at its airports and reservation centers to help passengers holding AeroMexico tickets find other flights.

But red and black strike banners were draped over AeroMexico counters at Mexico City's international airport, and many passengers reported receiving no help.

Talks between the airline and union broke down at about midnight Thursday. The airline, which had offered a 6.5 percent salary increase earlier, had moved that offer to 8.5 percent. The union had been asking for a 30 percent increase and enforcement of some work rules.

Negotiations resumed Friday but were later suspended after the union rejected a second offer from the company of a 9 percent salary increase. The union said it would not settle for less than 11 percent. The two sides agreed to meet again Saturday.

AeroMexico carries about 42 percent of Mexico's domestic air traffic, as well as a significant share of foreign flights. Federal Labor Secretary Carlos Abascal called it ``a key service for the development of our country.''

But the government so far has not intervened to block the strike, as it did during similar walkouts in 1998 and 2000 under a previous federal administration.

Two earlier strikes in 1998 and 2000 were quickly halted when the government intervened on the ground that the airline was essential to the national interest.

The strike caught some travelers by surprise, and hundreds were milling around the airport.

``We've been around to about six different counters and nobody helps us,'' said Jason Ely, 25, of Dallas, who was to make a connecting flight to Acapulco.

He said one airline offered $350 one-way tickets for the hour-long flight, which he rejected.

``We've already purchased the (AeroMexico) airline tickets to Acapulco. We've paid for the hotels so that pretty much used up most of our cash. ... So we have no money here, no place to stay and no way out.''

AeroMexico serves about 25,000 passengers a day at 48 Mexican airports and 209 abroad.