US Airways flight attendants picket for contract
Nov 15, 2012 (Menafn - The Charlotte Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --US Airways flight attendants picketed outside Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Wednesday afternoon, demanding a better contract offer before the airline attempts a merger with American Airlines.
With chants such as "We'll strike, we'll shut it down," and "Stand up, fight back," the flight attendants marched in front of the arrivals level of the terminal, joined by several dozen US Airways pilots. Local union chapter president Cathy Campbell estimated attendance at more than 250, based on the number of signs she handed out.
"This is indicative of the frustration people are feeling," said Mark Gentile, who's been a flight attendant for 35 years, starting out with one of US Airways' predecessor companies, Alleghany Airlines.
The airline's 6,700 flight attendants are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants. Charlotte Douglas is US Airways' busiest hub, and its more than 600 daily flights account for almost 90 percent of the airport's total. There are also about 2,100 US Airways flight attendants employees based at the Charlotte airport.
The picketing comes as US Airways pursues a deal with one of its rivals, American Airlines, while the larger American is under bankruptcy protection.
US Airways has not inked unified contracts with its pilots and flight attendants since its 2005 merger with America West. Flight attendants and pilots from the old America West and US Airways still fly separately, under separate contracts with different pay scales and work rules.
"Our Merger Comes First -- Contract Now," read signs held by flight attendants, who also picketed at airports in Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C.
The flight attendants have rejected unified contracts with US Airways twice this year. In September, union members voted 51 percent to 49 percent to turn down the airline's latest offer.
US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said the airline offered raises of 13 percent to 35 percent, effective upon signing, with further raises to follow.
She pointed out that the recent contract offer was rejected by a narrow margin, and said the National Mediation Board will determine when negotiations will resume.
Gentile said that he's making the same wages he made in 1996, since two US Airways bankruptcy filings in the early 2000s forced cuts in wages and benefits.
Although he said the US Airways contract offer would have raised his wages back to what he'd been making in 2004, Gentile said that other deep cuts -- to pensions, vacation time, and sick time -- meant that the airline's offer was not enough.
US Airways flight attendants also are currently voting on whether or not to authorize a strike. The vote is largely symbolic, however; under the laws governing airline labor relations, employees can't strike until several stringent legal conditions have been met.
"Even if US Airways flight attendants vote to authorize a strike, by no means is a strike even close to happening," said Mohr, via email. Prior to any strike, the NMB would have to declare negotiations at an impasse, and release both parties to a mandatory 30-day cooling-off period.
The AFA union acknowledged that in a message sent to members last month, when the strike vote was called. "We are far from the point where we would be facing a strike," the union's message, posted on www.ourafa.org, said. "Our union will be pressing the NMB for additional dates with the clear direction from you that the overall economics in these negotiations must improve."
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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