Machinists for USAir vote to strike

October 03, 1992|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

The union representing 8,300 Machinists at USAir has voted overwhelmingly to reject the company's latest contract offer and to strike.

A decision about when to begin the potentially crippling walkout will come no later than Monday, union officials said.

"They're mad at how the company's treating them, and they've shown it in their vote," Jim Conley, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said yesterday after votes from locals around the nation were tallied.

There was no indication of whether the two sides would return to the bargaining table.

"Our hope is we can still resolve this," said Larry Pickett, a spokesman for USAir in Charlotte, N.C.

The Arlington, Va.-based airline, which has lost more than $675 million in the past two years, is seeking wage and benefit reductions as well as work-rule changes. Earlier this year, USAir secured a number of concessions from its 5,500 pilots.

But union officials said yesterday that the company's offer would force machinists to "carry a heavier burden than other employee groups." And they lashed out at what it called a "heavy hand" imposed in the contract negotiations by British Airways, which is proposing to invest $750 million in USAir in exchange for a 44 percent stake in the carrier.

USAir, which maintains a hub at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, is the airport's largest carrier. The impact of a strike there could be severe as more than 60 percent of BWI's 27,000 daily passengers fly USAir.

"Our biggest problem would be passenger inconvenience, rebooking or finding them other transportation," Linda Greene, a spokeswoman at BWI, said yesterday.

Yesterday, local union leaders met with BWI management to discuss picket lines.

"No one wants to strike. It's one of those things you do as a last resort, said Winston A. Rubie, president of Local 846, which represents 168 Machinists at BWI.

But, Mr. Rubie said, Machinists would rather strike than accept the company's latest offer, which he termed "extremely repressive."

Yesterday's announcement by the Machinists union followed weeklong voting sessions by locals around the country on USAir's latest offer.

Last weekend, USAir avoided a strike after failing to reach agreement with the union before a federally imposed deadline expired. The airline persuaded the union to hold off its walkout and take the company's latest offer to membership.

Meanwhile, USAir officials said they could rely on federally licensed supervisors to help avoid a shutdown and continue some operations.

"We have contingency plans so we could operate a substantial number of daily flights," said Dave Shipley, a spokesman for USAir in Arlington, who declined to elaborate.

USAir, the nation's sixth-largest airline, has about 2,700 jet departures every day nationwide, as well as some 2,000 commuter flights. At BWI, 110 of the 200 daily flights are commuters. None of the mechanics involved in the current contract dispute work on commuter planes.

A walkout by the USAir Machinists would come as other major airlines have been laying off Machinists. This week, Trans World Airlines said up to 700 Machinists would soon get layoff notices, and Northwest said it plans to furlough several hundred mechanics.

The latest offer by USAir calls for a 12-month progressive reduction in pay, with salaries returning to the current level at the end of that period. A Machinist making $35,000 a year, for instance, would see a reduction of $1,200.

But Mr. Rubie said union members were more concerned about losing jobs.

"They are taking away a lot of things that were done by mechanics and could give them to non-union personnel," he said.

For example, licensed mechanics now walk under each wing to ensure that an aircraft is properly clearing the terminal ramp. USAir has proposed replacing Machinists in those job with other workers who are not as highly paid.

"We have promised them in writing that no jobs would be lost," said Mr. Shipley.

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