and two unions reported some progress -- but still no agreements -- in high-stakes labor talks as the weekend approached.
United is haggling over new contracts with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, which represents about 6,800 of the airline's mechanics, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents some 19,500 United ground workers, primarily baggage handlers and public-contact employees.
Negotiations have been made more urgent by a bankruptcy court trial that began Wednesday and is scheduled until next Thursday. The court will decide whether to terminate the two unions' contracts if consensual agreements cannot be reached. United says its must have concessions in order to attract financing to exit bankruptcy.
Both unions have threatened to strike if the court throws out their contracts but continued to try to reach consensual agreements with management on Friday.
"We are encouraged by the tone and nature of the discussions," said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the airline, on Friday afternoon.
IAM spokesman Joseph Tiberi said his union had resolved some "fundamental" issues this week with the carrier over how to value various contract changes. The union is now developing a comprehensive proposal it hopes to present to the airline on Sunday or Monday.
Meanwhile, AMFA expects to meet again with United negotiators later Friday. Characterizing the discussions as "neutral," AMFA spokesman Richard Turk said, "We're not close to a meltdown, and we're not close to a tentative agreement."
The AMFA says its biggest sticking point with the airline remains job security. "We want to know we'll be here in five years," Turk said, adding that union members don't trust the company anymore and want guarantees of job security in ink.
AMFA leadership already reached a tentative agreement with the union only to have members vote it down in January.
United's pilot and flight attendant unions have already agreed to concessions with the airline, although flight attendants have protested United's handover of its traditional pension obligations to the federal government, a move the bankruptcy court approved this week.
United has been struggling to emerge from bankruptcy protection since December 2002.