US Air tells state of layoffs

Company warns of shutdown if 2,300 attendants strike

Action taken `seriously'

Cooling-off period for the union expires March 25


March 03, 2000|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,SUN STAFF

US Airways Group raised the pressure on flight attendants to settle a contract dispute by notifying the state of Maryland that it would close its operations here and lay off 2,300 workers.

The Arlington, Va.-based airline had warned earlier that it would shut down if it could not reach an agreement with its 10,000 flight attendants by March 25. The airline said it would rather close operations than subject customers to the disruption of service being threatened by the flight attendants union.

Airline spokesman Rick Weintraub said yesterday that other notices have gone out elsewhere about potential layoffs, but he was not sure how many of the 44,000 employees in 38 states would be affected. Of the 2,300 workers in Maryland, about 1,000 are flight attendants.

"I don't know if they are serious or not, if they are really shutting down," said Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants. "We have to take them seriously."

Zack said the union would prepare flight attendants for a shutdown and find out what benefits they might be eligible for in each state.

The airline and the union have been in a three-year dispute. US Airways said it has offered to pay the flight attendants 1 percent more than the average salary, and benefits and work rules offered at the top four airlines.

Zack said it is not clear in the company's proposal how much flight attendants would be paid. What is clear, he said, is that the proposal includes cuts in vacation, sick pay, scheduling and disability insurance.

Last week, the union rejected an offer for binding federal arbitration, which triggered a 30-day cooling-off period. After that time, at 12: 01 a.m. March 25, the union is free to strike.

The union said that after the cooling-off period, it would stage a strike action called CHAOS, or Create Havoc Around Our System. With CHAOS, flight attendants might make a mass walkout for a day, a week or for individual flights.

Next week, the union plans to reveal cities targeted for such action, to give passengers time to make other flight arrangements, Zack said.

Word about a possible work disruption, prompted US Airways Chairman Stephen M. Wolf and Chief Executive Officer Rakesh Gangwal to send a letter to employees last week about the potential shutdown and layoffs. The letter said if forced to shut down, the airline would pay all employees, except flight attendants, as long as it could.

Federal law requires that an employer give a state 60 days notice if it is laying off more than 100 workers.

US Airways notified Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation on Monday about the possible layoffs, which would take effect March 25. Unless it's economically unfeasible, companies are required to pay employees during the 60 days of notification, the state says.

"You can bank on the fact that if they don't have an agreement, they will shut that airline down," said Darryl Jenkins, director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University. "He [Wolf] is not a bluffer." Jenkins, who also works as a consultant for airlines, visited US Airways yesterday.

"They're trying to figure out if the flight attendants don't reach an agreement, how to shut the airline down," he said. "So they are working with other airlines to transfer passengers."

Union officials said the latest move is designed to weaken other employees' support for the flight attendants. The airline is trying "to put pressure on the union by means of pitting one group against the other," said Richard Delgadillo, director of the union's CHAOS Command Center in Pittsburgh.

"What it has done is made the flight attendants mad," Zack said. "Instead of negotiating a fair contract, they would rather work to shut down an airline. They would rather hurt passengers. They would rather hurt employees. They would rather hurt investors."

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