Flight attendants rally at White House to denounce wages, benefits

Tuesday, December 14th 2004, 7:24 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Airline employees, rallying outside the White House, accused the Bush administration Tuesday of siding with airline managers who the attendants said are claiming financial hardship to deny their employees a decent living.

``We will strike when the first bankruptcy judge throws out a flight attendant contract,'' Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said at a rally by 200 airline workers at Lafayette Park across from the White House.

Flight attendants, pilots, maintenance workers and their supporters marched in biting cold to protest what they called a long deterioration in working conditions, accelerated by efforts at airlines such as United and US Airways to use the bankruptcy process to cancel union contracts and impose deep pay cuts.

``Bankruptcy is not a license to steal,'' said Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department.

Friend faulted the White House and Congress for letting airline executives bid for bailouts without protecting jobs, health insurance pensions or wages of the workers. Speaking about the government, she said, ``We are not just going to stand by and let you destroy our industry.''

Her union said last month it would hold strike-authorization votes at four major airlines, United, US Airways, ATA and Hawaiian. Union officials said they would await the outcome of the airlines' bankruptcy proceedings before deciding whether to strike.

``Our airlines are Wal-Mart with wings,'' AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told the demonstrators. ``Thousands of workers and tens of thousands of passengers are sharing substandard and potentially unsafe working and traveling conditions.''

US Airways said in a statement Tuesday that it continues to negotiate with its flight attendants' union to reach agreements that both parties can accept.

It said a strike would not be legal under current circumstances. ``It would ground this airline and send approximately 5,400 flight attendants to the unemployment line,'' the statement said. ``That option would not be in anyone's best interest.''

Donna Hansen, 48, for 18 years a flight attendant with United, said she is flying 15 more hours a month now than when she started and being paid less after inflation: $40.97 per flight hour now compared with $37 in 1986.

``They're using bankruptcy to get leverage with unions and enforce concessions on the employees,'' she said. ``We work more hours to get less pay.''

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress established a $15 billion airline bailout to compensate the carriers for losses caused by the emergency. The legislation also set up the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which compensated survivors or families of victims of the attacks on condition that they forgo lawsuits against airlines.