US Airways appeals to its employees to come in on days off, and promises discipline

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ US Airways is trying to recruit volunteers willing to work for free over the New Year's weekend at Philadelphia's airport in order to avoid a repeat of a Christmas fiasco that

Monday, December 27th 2004, 10:32 am

By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ US Airways is trying to recruit volunteers willing to work for free over the New Year's weekend at Philadelphia's airport in order to avoid a repeat of a Christmas fiasco that left the struggling airline with too few workers to fly its planes and process baggage.

Separately, the airline warned employees it would review the attendance records of those who called in sick over the Christmas holiday _ and to discipline workers who abused the sick time system.

In a message to its employees Tuesday, US Airways sought volunteers willing to give up their New Year's Eve plans and work as customer greeters, ramp agents or baggage sorters. The request seeks workers only at Philadelphia, a major hub for the Arlington, Va.-based airline.

While the volunteers will not be paid for extra shifts, employees will be paid for regularly scheduled work, US Airways spokesman David Castelveter emphasized Wednesday. Company executives and managers would be taking part in the volunteer program, he said.

US Airways Group Inc. canceled hundreds of flights around Christmas when an unusually large number of flight attendants and baggage handlers failed to show up for work, crippling an operation already hampered by bad weather.

Adding to travelers' woes, another airline, Delta subsidiary Comair, had to ground 1,100 flights on Christmas Day because of a computer problem. U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta asked the agency's inspector general to investigate the holiday difficulties at the two airlines.

Comair said it resumed operation of its complete schedule of approximately 1,100 flights Wednesday for the first time since the computer failure.

The US Airways debacle left an estimated 10,000 undelivered bags at Philadelphia's airport and stranded travelers along the East Coast.

The problems come at a particularly bad time for US Airways, which is struggling to stay afloat and has asked its major unions to accept large pay cuts. A bankruptcy court judge temporarily slashed the pay of all workers by 21 percent in October. The court has said the company could be liquidated if it does not present a viable financial plan by Jan. 15.

In its message to its employees Tuesday, US Airways said the volunteer program ``promises to be a rewarding opportunity to learn more about the operation of our airline and come face to face with our customers.''

In a separate note, the company said it would conduct an ``enhanced review'' of each worker's attendance record from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3 to determine who should be disciplined, or denied pay, because of the spike in sick calls.

The president of the US Airways unit of the Association of Flight Attendants posted a message on the union's Web site chastising workers who failed to report to work over the holidays.

The problem, Perry Hayes wrote, ``was caused, unfortunately, by a minority of employees who appear to have decided to take some type of action against the company.''

``Sadly, the employees who took this action may ultimately cause the failure of the airline.''

Several unions have been in negotiations over permanent pay cuts, leaving many employees bitter about their future with the airline. But the unions representing both attendants and baggage handlers have denied there was any organized effort to get workers to call in sick.

Mollie McCarthy, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants chapter in Philadelphia, said 238 flight attendants nationwide called out sick on Christmas Eve and 306 on Christmas Day, compared with 261 and 298, respectively, on the two days in 2003.

``We love this company. It is our home. It is our family,'' McCarthy said.

The Machinists union, which represents baggage handlers, said it had approached the company about staffing problems at Philadelphia nearly a year ago but the problems were not solved.

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