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US Airways flight attendants vote to strike; AA pilots vote on contract

Flight attendants at US Airways have overwhelmingly voted to support unannounced walkouts if the union and airline's management can't come to terms on a new contract; and the chief of American Airlines' pilots union urges members to approve a recently negotiated deal in an ongoing vote, in spite of some serious internal dissension in the group.

Members of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) at US Airways voted 94 percent in favor of a job action if talks with management fail to produce a single contract that covers fight crew from the former America West and from US Airways -- something they say is long overdue considering that the two airlines merged seven years ago.

The AFA said in a statement that even though the airline's profits are “soaring,” its flight attendants “still shoulder the sacrifices forced through bankruptcy a decade ago, as well as disparate, industry-low pay of a first contract from 1999.” The labor situation is “a black eye for US Airways and no foundation for a new marriage with American,” the union said.

The union is currently negotiating with management under National Mediation Board (NMB) jurisdiction. If no progress is made, the NMB would start the clock ticking on a 30-day cooling off period. If that happens and there's still no deal, AFA said, its members at US Airways can be expected to launch a CHAOS campaign.

CHAOS, the favored labor tactic among flight attendants at U.S. carriers in recent years, stands for “Create Havoc Around Our System.” As AFA explains it, this would mean “intermittent strikes targeted and called without warning to management or the traveling public.” The tactic is designed to sow uncertainty about an airline's schedule reliability without bringing all operations to a halt.

Meanwhile, American Airlines pilots who belong to the Allied Pilots Association (APA) have started voting on a new contract hammered out between their leadership and management. The contract is seen as a key to successful emergence of the company from Chapter 11 bankruptcy; last summer, pilots rejected one proposed contract and new union leaders took over.

A letter from APA president Keith Wilson to his members last week indicates that there is some strong dissension within the rank and file that could kill the current contract offer in hopes of getting something better.

Wilson said he had received some “chest-thumping” emails from member pilots who oppose the deal. “While martyrdom in the manner of Eastern Airlines is one option, I do not believe that the majority of our pilots would prefer to embark upon a path of self-destruction in order to make a political point or poke management in the eye,” he wrote.

Wilson said that internal dissension within the union was being stoked by “a relatively small group of former APA officers and committee members” who have started what he called “a campaign of F.U.D. (i.e., fear, uncertainty and doubt) laced with disinformation designed to appeal to our greatest fears and our most base elements.”

Wilson urged pilots to vote in favor of the recently negotiated contract. “I believe we have reached the point that economists refer to as diminished marginal returns,” he wrote, “at which pushing for more will get us less.”

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