FLIGHT attendants closer to strike against American Airlines

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ Flight attendants at American Airlines moved one step closer to a possible strike this summer against American Airlines after their union leaders voted to reject arbitration over a new contract.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants said the union could legally strike as early as June 30.

Despite Wednesday's vote, though, there's no certainty about a strike.

President Bush intervened to stop a strike by mechanics at Northwest Airlines and was prepared to block a pilots' strike against Delta Airlines, ``and we have every reason to believe he would be just as concerned about a strike at American,'' said airline spokeswoman Karen Watson.

Negotiations have lasted more than two years. The National Mediation Board was brought in to help the talks but declared an impasse last month.

The union's 18-member board voted unanimously to reject binding arbitration. A spokeswoman said that Thursday would start a 30-day cooling-off period, after which a strike could be called. She said the rank-and-file would vote before a walkout.

The union's president, John Ward, said the two sides have narrowed their differences in recent talks monitored by the National Mediation Board, ``but the company has still not been willing to put the money on the table that is needed to get the job done.''

Union officials disputed American's claim that the two sides are $570 million apart on pay and other contract costs and that the contract would boost the flight attendants over their counterparts at other carriers.

``The company likes to characterize its current proposal as industry-leading, but the pay it has offered will keep the American flight attendants behind the industry leader (Delta) for the entire duration of the contact,'' Ward said.

Watson, the airline spokeswoman, disputed Ward's account, saying American's proposal is 3 percent more generous than Delta's contract.

Lori Bassani, a union spokeswoman, said American's negotiators ``came a lot closer'' to the union's position during informal talks in Kansas City last month. Those talks, she said, followed the formal, mediator-led sessions. She declined to say how far apart the sides are.

Union officials said last month the airline was offering a 21.6 percent raise over six years.

American, however, contends that its last offer would have increased its labor costs $498 million while the union's demands would cost more than $1 billion over the life of the contract.

In a statement, the airline said it was confident that the National Mediation Board will again call both sides back to the bargaining table.