Pilots resisting US Airways cuts

Airline wants the union to accept even more trims in reduced pension plan

September 01, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

US Airways and its pilots union were set to meet last night, amid resistance within the pilots' ranks to the airline's bid to shrink their already diminished pension plan, a casualty of the airline's previous bankruptcy filing.

US Airways is pushing its pilots to grant $295 million in wage and benefit cuts, the largest share of $800 million in concessions it is seeking from its 28,000 employees.

Without the cuts, part of an overall $1.5 billion restructuring plan, US Airways has warned that it is likely to file again for bankruptcy protection as soon as the end of this month. To avoid that, it wants its unions to reach deals by Sept. 15.

Agreement by the pilots is critical to winning concessions from the other unions. But the pilots' leadership, which has been meeting since last week in Arlington, Va., where the carrier is based, is wracked by disagreement over whether to grant a third round of cuts to the airline.

Employees gave the carrier two rounds of cuts while it was in bankruptcy. The cuts by the pilots in 2002 and last year were collectively worth $566 million.

At the heart of the contentious negotiations between US Airways and its pilots is an issue touching nerves at other carriers: the pilots' pension plan. Last year, the airline terminated its pilots' plan, then replaced it with a less generous retirement program.

Now, the airline is proposing to reduce the streamlined pension plan, according to people who have been briefed on both sides' offers. Upset at losing their old pension plan, some veteran pilots on the union's 12-member leadership council have vowed to resist more changes.

There was also further labor turmoil at bankrupt United Airlines yesterday. Leaders of its flight attendants union unanimously passed a motion expressing no confidence in management. The Association of Flight Attendants said it would take "all necessary and appropriate legal steps" to replace senior managers, including the chief executive, Glenn F. Tilton.

The Machinists union at United has filed a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to appoint a trustee to run the airline, in essence unseating Tilton. A hearing is scheduled for this month.

The flight attendants did not say if they would join the action.

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