US Airways pushes accord with pilots Sept. 30 deadline for plane deal draws nearer

Cost-cutting is goal

400 new aircraft are pivotal to restructuring

Air travel

September 15, 1997|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

With a Sept. 30 deadline with Airbus Industrie fast approaching, US Airways top officials will take their appeal for a contract settlement with its pilots on the road again, meeting Wednesday with hundreds of employees in Charlotte, N.C.

Negotiations between the Arlington, Va.-based airline and its 5,700-member pilots union have been going on for more than a year.

In its latest offer on Sept. 5, the airline said it would provide higher compensation than its competitors as well as job security.

The company asked for a ratification vote before Sept. 30, the date by which the airline must affirm its $14 billion order for 400 new aircraft with Airbus.

While the order is pivotal to restructuring the airline, US Airways says it can't affirm it before reaching a cost-cutting agreement with its pilots that would pave the way for deals with other employee unions.

Analysts have predicted that the airline probably won't have enough time, and that could force it to abandon expansion plans, including more overseas flying, and to shrink to a regional carrier.

In a series of meetings last spring, US Airways Chairman Stephen M. Wolf and President Rakesh Gangwal laid out bleak alternatives, including all but eliminating the carrier's money-losing operation at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where it handles about 45 percent of the 31,000 daily passengers.

Over the past six years, US Airways, formerly known as USAir, has significantly reduced its service at BWI from roughly 190 jet flights a day to just 75.

The US Airways leaders also threatened in April to scrap its transcontinental service and eliminate its Florida flights.

Wednesday's meeting, at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, follows others at airports in Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia.

It was not clear how much further Wolf and Gangwal would go Wednesday.

A company spokesman declined to comment.

Union officials protest

Union officials insisted last week that the company was still trying to circumvent the collective bargaining process by taking its appeal directly to the workers.

In July, the union filed suit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, alleging that US Airways' bargaining tactics violated the Railroad Labor Act, which applies to the airline industry, and requires management to attempt to bargain with employees through their unions.

"Rather than negotiating with the pilots and pounding out an agreement, they're taking this to the employees and making us look like bad guys," said Mike Oakey, spokesman for the US Airways division of the Air Line Pilots Associations in Pittsburgh.

"They should be addressing the issues and coming up with some concrete numbers we can vote on rather than conceptual ideas like parity."

In its latest offer, the airline promised compensation -- including salary, benefits, financial returns and productivity -- at parity plus 1 percent of the average of the four larger airlines (American, Delta, Northwest and United).

Pilots in a proposed low-fare, low-cost division would get parity plus 1 percent of the average compensation at Delta Express and Southwest.

Pilots remain skeptical

But pilots remain skeptical, saying that approving such an agreement without specific figures would amount to signing a "blank check."

The airline has said, however, it would allow the union to determine how parity is reached and would allow a neutral third party to annually review its compliance.

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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