American Air Attendants Delay Strike Vote as Talks are Extended
By Mary Schlangenstein
Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- American Airlines’ flight attendants delayed a strike vote and a federal mediator extended negotiations after the two sides failed to reach a contract agreement.
Talks will resume next month, spokesmen for American and the union said.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants had set today as the earliest date for balloting on a walkout. The union is “re-evaluating its options and consulting with our board” on when to take such a vote, Laura Glading, APFA president, said yesterday.
“Although APFA came to this session determined to reach an agreement, the company responded with nothing but concessions on top of concessions,” Glading said in a message to members on the union Web site. “Apparently the company believes this round of bargaining is 2003 all over again, and is demanding what it could not get from us seven years ago.”
AMR Corp.’s American is trying to reduce its industry- leading labor expenses while avoiding a dispute that could cripple operations. The attendants, who struck the airline for five days in 1993, are pushing to recoup pay and benefits ceded to help the company avoid bankruptcy in 2003.
The APFA represents 16,550 active attendants. Contract talks opened in June 2008, and a federal mediator joined the discussions a year ago to try to speed progress. The union and company agreed to a focused round of talks that began Jan. 11 in hopes of reaching a contract. A strike vote, if approved by members, would give leaders the authority to call a walkout.
“While the teams did not reach an agreement during this time, the company stays committed to the process and we are ready to move ahead with any proposal that makes good economic and operational sense,” American said in a statement posted on a company negotiations Web site.
Five Days of Meetings
David Roscow, a union spokesman, said the mediator scheduled five days of meetings starting Feb. 27 in Washington. An American spokeswoman, Missy Latham, confirmed that the mediator plans more negotiations between the two sides in February.
The union said it would ask the National Mediation Board to declare talks at an impasse, moving it a step closer to a possible strike, if an agreement isn’t reached when the next round ends.
Talks with the attendants may prove pivotal in American’s efforts to reach contracts with its 11,500 pilots and 25,000 employees represented by the Transport Workers Union. All three labor groups are seeking to win back pay and benefits ceded in 2003 to save AMR from bankruptcy.
American and the attendants agreed to the focused round of talks in hopes of reaching agreements on 11 remaining contract articles, including compensation, vacation and medical and retirement benefits.
No Favorable Odds
Robert Mann, president of aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York, said he “wouldn’t give favorable odds on a settlement outside of super mediation.”
So-called super mediation is a last-ditch effort to reach agreement before a strike could begin. Before that can happen, the National Mediation Board would have to declare the talks at an impasse. Both sides would then be asked to agree to binding arbitration to reach a contract. If either side declined, a 30- day cooling-off period would be triggered.
Without an accord in super mediation during the 30 days, the union would be allowed to strike and American could hire replacement workers.
“I doubt any carrier could successfully fly through a reasonably effective flight attendant strike,” Mann said.
Then-President Bill Clinton ended the 1993 walkout by persuading both sides to agree to binding arbitration. American lost $300 million in revenue during the strike.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at firstname.lastname@example.org