US Airways Union Leader Hits the Road to Sell Flight Attendant Deal

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- The tentative contract between US Airways ( LCC) and its flight attendants has drawn criticism on Facebook and elsewhere, but union president Mike Flores insists he is confident of approval.

Flores, president of the US Airways chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants, is in the middle of a grueling series of "road shows" to explain the contract to members, making 21 stops in 28 days. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to be in Pittsburgh, once the airline's largest hub, now just another airport. Flores' tour will end March 14 and ballots, mailed last week, will be counted March 30.

"We chose to beat Facebook by going face to face with members," Flores declared. "I am not a Facebook person. I like to deal with real faces, and we've met face to face with almost 20% of the members. I am looking at them and I know they are voting yes." The carrier has 6,751 flight attendants.

The reception to a tentative deal during 1995 road shows was far different, Flores recalled. "The negotiating committee couldn't even get through its presentation," he said. "They were booed out of the room. Nothing like that is happening now."

After the 1995 deal was rejected, members continued under a 1993 agreement until 2000, when management offered more generous terms in hopes of removing a barrier to a planned merger with United ( UAL) -- which never occurred. Subsequently, the contract was reworked during the carrier's two bankruptcies.

Last month, US Airways and the AFA reached a tentative agreement. In Phoenix, the union's local executive council endorsed the deal. The Philadelphia and Washington councils are neutral. The Charlotte council, which is opposed, declined to endorse.

The five-year deal, reached after five years of talks, would combine existing separate contracts for US Airways and the former America West, which merged in 2005. At the top of the 15-year-scale, which predominates, hourly pay would immediately go to $46, up from $41.51 at the former airline and $37.59 at the latter. Three scheduled increases would bring the top rate to $48.

Also, flight attendants would be paid more for time away from home. They would work a maximum of 13 hours a day, compared with 14 hours at most carriers. Deadheading time (when flight attendants return to their bases) would be paid at a higher rate. In a provision from the existing contract, retained despite management opposition, a merger would mean that laid-off flight attendants would be entitled to 60% of their salary for five years, likely ensuring that none would be laid off.

Flight attendants who oppose the contract say the benefits are outweighed by increases in health care costs, and reduced vacation time for America West flight attendants. Also, the deal would eliminate a practice, long part of the US Airways contract, of pairing flight attendant crews with pilot crews. Some flight attendants view elimination as a negative, although Flores said the work rule benefits from the arrangement are protected.

On the USAviation.com site, an opponent identified as "Galley Princess" has criticized the contract in several posts. "Seriously, I get that people are desperate for a raise, but read this thing and do the math," Galley Princess wrote. "There is no raise here. They've actually taken money, shuffled it and you end up with less."

But US Airways executives have said that an earlier, less expensive version of the deal would cost the airline $40 million annually. Said Flores, "flight attendants have been abused over the last two decades with two bankruptcies and we've lost a lot." Negotiations, he said, brought vast improvements in existing contracts, in both work rules and compensation. "In negotiations, you make the best deal you can," he said. "Then you put it out to members and you ask them to make a business decision."

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

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