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US Airways faces flight attendant uproar as AA, pilots form a deal

Flight attendants at potential American Airlines suitor US Airways are taking a strike vote, even as a months-old conflict between AA and its pilots union is easing due to a new tentative contract deal.

Travelers at Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington Reagan National and Phoenix airports last week were greeted by members of the US Airways chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants, who were conducting informational picketing ahead of a strike vote—although union leaders noted that even if members approved it, “a strike would not take place right away.”

Even though US Airways management earlier this year secured tentative contract deals with American Airlines' three largest unions in the event a merger takes place, the company still hasn't finalized labor deals with its own workers.

"Management has failed to negotiate an acceptable single contract, which means the US Airways/America West merger of 2005 remains incomplete,” the flight attendants union said in a statement, adding that its 6,700 members at US Airways are “fed up.”

"How can we trust (US Airways CEO Doug) Parker to get the next merger done when seven years later he hasn't completed this one?” the flight attendants said.

Meanwhile, a nasty stalemate between American Airlines and its pilots that led to a spike in flight delays and cancellations during the early fall appears to be over now that the union and management have come to a preliminary agreement on a new contract.

Members of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), who had voted down a tentative contract deal with American last summer, will now conduct a poll on the newest proposal, which APA said represents “an industry standard contract” that will allow the airline “to complete a successful restructuring and compete on a level playing field with its network-carrier peers.”

After pilots rejected the earlier contract offer, the bankruptcy court gave the company the go-ahead to impose its own terms on pilots without benefit of collective bargaining—something that outraged union members. While the APA insisted that there was no organized job action, American's schedule reliability nonetheless was decimated as departures were delayed for various maintenance issues and some flights were scratched altogether.  The problems led the airline to slightly shrink its capacity in the fall.

American's pilot union was the final holdout in talks with management for new contracts to carry the company into its post-Chapter 11 future; flight attendants and ground workers including mechanics had already agreed to deals last summer.

American's unsecured creditors committee met last week with representatives of US Airways to hear that company's plan for a merger of the two airlines. That was followed by a similar meeting with AMR officials to hear the airline's case for remaining independent as it moves out of bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy court has granted American's request for an extension until January 28 to have exclusive rights in filing a reorganization plan. As long as that exclusivity provision is in place, US Airways can't present its merger plan to the court.

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