PIT Post-Gazette on today's labor news



US Airways reaches pact with gate, ticket agents - mechanics to vote again
PITTSBURGH (Post-Gazette) - US Airways yesterday reached tentative agreement on a package of concessions with the Communications Workers of America and persuaded the International Association of Machinists to put an earlier offer rejected by mechanics to another vote.
As a result, US Airways said it would ask a bankruptcy judge to postpone a hearing set for Tuesday at which management had planned to ask the court to abrogate or throw out its contracts with the two unions.
The tentative agreement with the CWA, which represents approximately 7,200 ticket, gate agent and reservation workers, would save the airline an estimated $456.5 million over 6 1/2 years, or roughly $70 million a year, said. Chris Fox, president of CWA Local 13302 in Pittsburgh.
The company would not comment on the details, but Jerry A. Glass, US Airways senior vice president of employee relations, said the agreement met the carrier's target for cost reductions.
Mechanics and related employees represented by the IAM's District 141-M on Aug. 28 rejected by a 58 percent margin a company proposal calling for $160 million in annual cost reductions from the group.
IAM representatives met with the company yesterday and agreed to hold a second vote for the mechanic group Sept. 17. As in the first vote, the IAM leadership will refrain from endorsing the pact, said union spokesman Joseph Tiberi.
Tiberi said some IAM members apparently believed incorrectly that a no vote would simply mean their negotiators would return to the bargaining table and try to get a better deal -- a not-so-unusual event in normal contract talks.
In bankruptcy, things are different Tiberi said. The reality is, if the proposal is rejected it is likely to get worse, not better.
If US Airways asks the court to abrogate the agreement, the judge can either agree or disagree with the company's motion. The airline has indicated in court documents that it will impose more drastic cuts on the union than those in the rejected agreement if it gets judicial approval.
In a letter being mailed to mechanics' homes, US Airways Chief Executive Officer David Siegel is asking them to reconsider their prior vote rejecting the concessions. The company declined to release the letter yesterday, though there was speculation another rejection could threaten its ability to obtain bankruptcy financing.
Some IAM members may have voted against the agreement because of a $6 million bonus plan the airline approved earlier in the year to retain certain executives and managers. The IAM had filed a motion seeking to vacate a court order approving the payments
But after a bankruptcy court hearing yesterday, the IAM noted that none of the permitted payments will be made to Stephen Wolf, the non-executive chairman of the airline; Siegel, Neal Cohen, an executive vice president and chief financial officer, or Glass, the executive in charge of labor relations.
Cost-cutting agreements already are in place with pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, flight attendants represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, simulator engineers, dispatchers and flight crew training instructors represented by the Transport Workers of America and fleet service workers and maintenance training specialists represented by the IAM.
In the separate talks with the CWA, the union resisted company demands to lower top-scale wages to $17.88 an hour. Fox, the CWA local president from Pittsburgh, said the top scale for the most senior workers represented by the CWA would be $20.05 an hour in the new agreement plus a 25 cent premium for employees who have contact with customers.
If it's approved, the union's members would give up seven paid sick days, some paid vacation time, two paid holidays and various other contractual items, Fox said. That is pretty painful. CWA-represented employees would gain stock in the reorganized company and the union would get the right to represent hub employees who would work for the newly formed commuter subsidiary, MidAtlantic Airways, that will be based in Pittsburgh. The CWA intends to immediately mail information on the proposed settlement to union members at their homes. A ratification vote will be overseen by a third party, the American Arbitration Association.
Voting will be conducted by telephone or via the Internet under an AAA-sanctioned process with balloting to be completed by Sept. 17, the union said in a statement.