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US Air Flight Attendants Protest Contract Delay

P/> CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- US Airways (LCC) flight attendants staged demonstrations at the carrier's four principal airports Thursday, protesting the slow pace of contract negotiations.

"After five years of negotiations, the company is still acting like they're in bankruptcy, even though they just made the second highest profit in company history," said Mike Flores, president of the US Airways chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants, at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.

About 100 flight attendants, joined by two dozen pilots including top leaders of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, demonstrated at Charlotte. Demonstrations also occurred in Philadelphia and Phoenix and at Washington's Reagan National Airport. Flores said a total of about 500 flight attendants participated.

In a January 25 contract offer, the airline offered raises, but the union said they are not enough and pulled out of the talks. The union believes its negotiating team is weakened because the just-concluded talks are not formal contract negotiations, but rather are post-merger negotiations aimed at getting a joint contract following a 2005 merger with America West.

Now, the union intends to ask the National Mediation Board to open formal negotiations. The existing contract, signed in bankruptcy, becomes amendable on Jan. 2, 2012, but has an early-open provision. Unlike the current negotiations, 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.

As far as the company's offer, Flores said it offers a 3% raise in 2013 and 3% more in 2014, followed by a three-year freeze. "It seems pointless to talk about ways to up that amount by giving other concession," he said, since the flight attendants made so many concessions in bankruptcy.

The situation is complicated because flight attendants from America West and from the former US Airways, known as "the east," still work under separate contracts. It is the east contract that could be reopened this year. The America West contract was signed in 1999 and became amendable in 2004. The company's offer would bring the America West flight attendants up to east levels: east flight attendants would get the two 3% raises and increased vacation time. Flores said medical benefits would diminish.

US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said the contract offer would increase the carrier's flight attendant costs by $40 million annually, an increase of 9 % to 10% in flight attendant costs.

"We think it's unfortunate that AFA leadership chose to walk away from talks last week," Mohr said. "We don't think that's constructive. Whenever AFA wants to talk, we're there, but it takes two sides to get a contract done.

She added that besides negotiated contract increases, flight attendants are benefiting from the $48 million in profit-sharing that the carrier will distribute (to all employees) this year, based on its 2010 financial performance, as well as from the $24 million in operational incentives that the carrier has already distributed.

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

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

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