US Airways Flight Attendants Reject Contract

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- Flight attendants at US Airways ( LCC) have overwhelmingly rejected a tentative contract agreement, reflecting unhappiness with the deal unanimously approved by their negotiating committee after five years of talks.

In a letter to union members, the US Airways chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants said that 75% of flight attendants voted to reject. Turnout was heavy, with 5,832 flight attendants, or 90% of the membership, voting.

The rejection represents a setback for the airline, which had hoped to show that could it reach a deal with flight attendants, even while pilots remain locked in a bitter seniority battle and without a joint contract six and a half years after a 2005 merger between US Airways and America West.

A deal could diminish the perception that US Airways should not pursue a merger with bankrupt AMR ( AAMRQ.PK) if it cannot resolve labor issues associated with its previous merger.

"US Airways Flight Attendants' voices were heard loud and clear: It is imperative that we obtain substantial improvements to our current contracts," said Deborah Volpe, president of the America West flight attendant group, and Mark Gentile, president of the US Airways flight attendant group, in a joint prepared statement.

In a letter to members, Volpe and other members of the negotiating committee said union leaders will meet shortly to map out strategy. That will include surveying members on which sections of the tentative contract should be changed in order to reach an agreement that can be ratified. "Based on the results of the survey, we will determine what changes to the tentative agreement to propose to the company," the committee said.

The National Mediation Board will continue to oversee talks, and existing contracts will remain in place. Many steps remain before the union could strike, including a release from mediation by the NMB.

"We are obviously disappointed that our flight attendants chose to vote against ratification of a new contract, "said US Airways CEO Doug Parker, in a prepared statement. "This tentative agreement was the result of years of deliberate negotiations (and) it was also unanimously approved by the AFA negotiating committee."

The tentative agreement would have sharply increased flight attendant pay and improved work rules, but it would also have increased health care payments. It would have created a joint contract for flight attendants from the two predecessor airlines following the merger.

Additionally, for flight attendants from the former US Airways, it would have eliminated a decades-old US Airways practice of pairing flight attendant crews with pilot crews: Some members believe that the section enables scheduling benefits.

Some flight attendants who opposed the contract said it did not sufficiently restore concessions made during two US Airways bankruptcies.

The tentative agreement was championed by former US Airways chapter president Mike Flores, but he was recalled on March 20 by local leaders who opposed the contract.

Flores had aggressively sought approval, staging nearly 20 "road shows," where he urged support in various cities with large concentrations of flight attendants.

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

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