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Two US Airways Unions Hold Back on Advocacy for Merger With American

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- In a prominently displayed ad that ran this week in several venues, four labor unions backed the merger of US Airways (LCC) and American (AAMRQ), which have taken the approach that displays of public support will help their case.

The ad ran in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Politico and elsewhere, and while it showcases labor support it also draws attention to the absence of two key unions from the public relations campaign, which is aimed at mustering political opposition to the Justice Department's lawsuit opposing the merger. In the Wednesday edition of Times, the ad took up two full adjoining pages.

One missing union is the International Association of Machinists, the largest union at US Airways, where it represents both fleet service workers and mechanics, about 9,300 of the 33,300 workers at the carrier. The IAM has been clear about its rationale: Negotiations over its contracts with the airline have dragged on for years.

Also missing is the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, which represents US Airways pilots. The pilots would be major beneficiaries of a merger because their two contracts are both among the worst in the airline industry. Two airlines, America West and US Airways, merged into the existing US Airways in 2005, but a seniority dispute has enabled the airline to defer signing a new joint contract.

That has left pilots in a complicated position, in which they would welcome a new contract but are not pleased with their treatment by the US Airways management team, which would head the new American. Many US Airways pilots believe that American unions back the team because they lack familiarity with it and because the grass is always greener elsewhere.

USAPA spokesman James Ray said the union has participated in some areas of the lobbying campaign but has declined to be in others because "sometimes the message isn't exactly what we would like to convey -- our message is sometimes different than that of the other parties."

USAPA does, however, intend to file a brief supporting the merger in U.S. District Court in Washington, where Judge Colleen Killar-Kotelly will consider the Justice Department's case. The USAPA board "wanted to say that the merger is good for competition, but did not want to sign on to the ad," Ray said.

The newspaper ad proclaims "Our Planes Should Be Up in the Air -- Not Our Jobs." It is signed by the presidents of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots; the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents US Airways flight attendants; the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American flight attendants; and the Transport Workers Union, which represents American fleet service workers, mechanics and others.

The USAPA leadership team didn't vote on whether to sign on to the ad, but came to an agreement not to sign it. Bob Frear, an A320 captain elected this month to be chairman of USAPA's Charlotte domicile, said the union's board and members back the merger, which would help to assure a viable U.S. airline industry with three global competitors, but aren't supporters of US Airways management

Frear said US Airways' strong financial performance in recent years has been built on the backs of pilots and other employees, who "make (CEO Doug Parker) look like he's doing a better job than he actually is. Unless his philosophy on corporate culture changes, ultimately the new American airlines will suffer under his leadership."

If the merger is not approved, USAPA would expect to go back to the drawing board in contract negotiations with US Airways. If that occurs, Frear said he "would hope the National Mediation Board would allow talks to get to the end game as soon as possible, allowing pilots to seek self-help if a quick resolution isn't possible.

"Let's hope this merger goes through and we don't have to go there," Frear said.

-- Written by Ted Reed

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