Talks continue in walkout by USAir machinists Court blocks flight attendants' attempt to honor the picket line


Flight attendants at USAir were back at work today after being ordered to return to the job last night by a federal judge.

The court order, near the end of the strike's first day, came after flight attendants vowed to honor the picket lines of striking Machinists. The strike has grounded roughly one-third of the airline's flights and disrupted service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where USAir is the largest carrier, serving 14,000 of the airport's 27,000 daily passengers.

A USAir spokeswoman said today that talks between the airline and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers continued all night and early today through a federal mediator.

There was no indication of how long the walkout would last. Neither side would comment on the negotiations.

Pilots for USAir, the nation's sixth-largest airline, said they would remain neutral and continue to fly.

The airline said it would continue operating about 60 percent of its 2,700 normally scheduled jet flights. Yesterday 1,444 commercial flights departed system-wide, according to Nancy Vaughan, a spokeswoman for the airline. In Baltimore, however, only 17 of 90 scheduled jet flights took off yesterday.

"In some cities the reduction was greater because of the type of aircraft that fly out of there," Ms. Vaughan said in explaining why so few flights left BWI. "We literally grounded all non-Boeing equipment like DC-9s and Fokker 100s,"

Many of those smaller jets fly out of Baltimore.

If the strike continues, "USAir intends to build back up to 100 percent," Ms. Vaughan said. Thus far, the airline has been using supervisors to do the machinists' work.

USAir's overseas flights -- three departures daily to London, two to Frankfurt and one to Paris -- as well as USAir commuter and shuttle services, are not affected.

Talks between the financially troubled airline and the Machinists union have been focusing on work-rule changes that striking workers insist would result in a loss of jobs for the 8,300-member union. In addition to work-rule changes, the airline is seeking an 8 percent progressive wage cut that would be restored to the current level in a year.

A prolonged strike could be devastating for the Arlington, Va.-based airline, which has lost more than $675 million in the last two years.

Yesterday thousands of passengers scrambled to shift to other domestic airlines, which honored their tickets, or to re-book on USAir flights that were departing.

Ms. Vaughan said the airline expected operations at its hub airports, including BWI, to run more smoothly today as passengers had more time to deal with the walkout.

Leaders of the Association of Flight Attendants had instructed the 9,000 attendants who work for USAir not to cross picket lines in a move that would have significantly increased pressure on the airline.

But U.S. District Judge Timothy Lewis, answering a request made by USAir late yesterday, issued a ruling in Pittsburgh last night ordering them back to work.

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