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US Airways' Merger Hopes Shape Contract Talks

Stocks in this article: AMR DAL LCC UAL

Flores said US Airways flight attendants do the same work as flight attendants at the Big Three and should receive the same pay. "We paid for the merger we have," he said, referring to contract concessions that enabled the carrier to emerge from bankruptcy. "Why should we pay for another one now?"

The company's first contract proposal offers already-promised increases: 1% in January 2011 and 3%, slated for January 2012, although Johnson said the company would move up the 3% increase by a full year.

The approximately 4,000 flight attendants from pre-merger US Airways, known as "the east," have different perspectives than the approximately 2,000 flight attendants from the former America West. Flores said west flight attendant raises would range between 13% at the top of the scale and 43% at the middle. "All the airline wants to do is to give the west pay parity," he said. "Not a single east flight attendant would vote for this."

But Johnson said moving up the scheduled increase would boost the payout to east flight attendants by "a significant seven figure amount" in the first year. He also said that increasing east vacation time to the level in the America West contract would cost the airline more than $10 million annually and would give 8 to 14 more paid vacation days annually to east flight attendants with eight or more years of experience. "It is effectively a big pay increase for east flight attendants," he said.

Flores said the proposal is unacceptable and the US Airways chapter will formally request to re-open its contract negotiations on Jan. 2, a move permitted under the current contract, which becomes amendable on Jan. 2, 2012, but has an early-open provision. Unlike the current negotiations, which are aimed at securing a joint contract, formal Section Six negotiations would be conducted under the Railway Labor Act process that enables mediation and potentially a job action if the talks fail.

Typically, the process takes years, but Flores said less time would be required because agreements exist on 25 of 33 contract sections.

Flight attendant negotiations have consumed about two weeks a month for the past 40 months. Johnson said the carrier wants a conclusion soon, after which it would step up talks with pilots. "We think an agreement with the flight attendants will be the inspiration to getting an agreement with the pilots," he said.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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