USAir union rejects arbiter

Flight attendants spurn bid, trigger cooling-off period


February 23, 2000|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

The union of flight attendants at US Airways rejected an offer for binding arbitration in its 3-year-old labor dispute yesterday, triggering a 30-day "cooling-off" period after which the employees are free to strike or take other action against the airline.

The Association of Flight Attendants rejected the National Mediation Board's offer to resolve its stalled contract negotiations with US Airways Group Inc. Under federal law, the union must wait for the cooling-off period to expire before calling a strike, but it can continue to negotiate.

In December, the union's 10,000 members voted to strike if a new employment contract could not be reached. But rather than call a traditional strike, union leaders plan a random series of walkouts and other job actions -- a strategy the union calls CHAOS, an acronym for "create havoc around our system. "

"Flight attendants want a contract, but we are ready to create CHAOS if that's the path US Airways chooses," said Lynn Lenosky, head of the union's US Airways division.

The Arlington, Va.-based airline has negotiated employment contracts with its other unions that pay workers 1 percent more than the average salary paid by the nation's top four airlines. Flight attendants have rejected a similar proposal, however, saying it would result in a 4.9 percent pay cut.

While better paid than their counterparts at other airlines, flight attendants at US Airways complain that they have not had a raise in more than four years. The union also wants to change the way its pension is administered, and has rejected efforts to cut benefits.

As airline employees, flight attendants are governed by the federal Railway Labor Act and must follow certain procedures before rejecting a contract and calling a strike. Because the union rejected arbitration, the National Mediation Board is expected to declare the 30-day cooling off period within days, as required by the act.

Contract negotiations began more than three years ago, and flight attendants have since staged frequent protests at US Airways' primary airports, including Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Most recently, union members handed out cards to airline customers warning them that unannounced walkouts and flight delays could result.

Airline officials have told employees that they will form a task force to find ways to minimize the effects of a strike or other action by flight attendants.

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