Baliles to assist USAir, pilots in talks

October 27, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

At the federal government's request, a former Virginia governor who headed a national commission on the airline industry is intervening to help resolve the impasse between USAir and its pilots union.

Both the Arlington, Va.-based carrier and the Air Line Pilots Association agreed with the recommendation by U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico F. Pena for Gerald L. Baliles to act as a facilitator of the stalled negotiations on cutting labor costs.

The move by Mr. Pena indicates how seriously the federal government views the plight of the financially struggling airline, which employs 45,000 people and is the largest carrier on the East Coast.

Since 1989, the airline has lost $2.5 billion and is continuing to suffer huge losses this year even as other domestic airlines rebound financially. Several months ago, USAir asked its major unions to cut $500 million a year in labor costs for each of the next three years.

Negotiations between USAir and its 5,200-member pilots union broke down more than two weeks ago after the airline announced plans to sell some of its largest planes. No meetings have been held since then.

Concerned that the talks were stalled, Mr. Pena met with both sides last week and sought their reaction to appointment of a facilitator.

The pilots union yesterday said Mr. Baliles is an "ideal choice who will be able to work with all parties in finding creative solutions in returning USAir to profitability."

"We have made no progress with our restructuring proposal," Peter Gauthier, chairman of USAir's pilots union, said in a taped statement yesterday. "Secretary Pena's appointment of a person of Governor Baliles' stature is a positive development."

Noting that several key issues have been "unbridgeable," USAir Chairman Seth E. Schofield yesterday also welcomed Mr. Baliles' involvement, saying:

"With Governor Baliles' assistance, I hope we can get the talks with the pilots back on course and reach an agreement."

Mr. Baliles, a partner with a prominent Richmond, Va., law firm, served last year as chairman of the National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry.

The pilots union said yesterday that its representatives will meet with Mr. Baliles tomorrow in Washington.

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