Pilots scold US Air brass Contract impasse is said to jeopardize 400-plane deal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With negotiations dragging on, US Airways pilots lashed out at management yesterday, saying the company has failed to tackle key contract issues. The impasse, they said, seriously jeopardizes the airline's deadline to affirm a crucial aircraft order.

"It is becoming increasingly unlikely that there will be sufficient time remaining for our pilots to be educated on a tentative agreement and cast an informed vote by Sept. 30," said Jon Bryan, president of the US Airways Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association.

In a $14 billion deal, US Airways Group Inc. plans to purchase 400 planes from Airbus Industrie over the next decade. The order is pivotal in restructuring the airline and its costly, hodgepodge fleet. But US Airways says it can't affirm the Airbus contract by its Sept. 30 deadline unless it reaches cost-cutting agreements with its 5,700-member pilots union.

Bryan said yesterday that management has yet to "properly address important contract issues including job security, compensation, growth, governance and financial returns."

The airline issued a brief statement saying ALPA confirmed "what US Airways has been saying for months that we have made no progress whatsoever toward achieving a competitive cost structure."

The Arlington, Va.-based carrier, which handles about 45 percent of the daily traffic at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, says its high cost structure makes it unable to compete with other major carriers and the growing number of low-cost, discount operations.

In July, US Airways said that, in exchange for concessions, it would expand the airline at a rate comparable to its major competitors, including Delta, Northwest, American and United Airlines, and give the pilots compensation parity. Yesterday, the company reiterated that guarantee, but indicated that it intends to expand the airline at a rate higher than competitors. But the pilots said US Airways is not assuring growth until at least 1999 and that it would shrink the airline 7.5 percent between now and then.

Management has proposed that an independent accounting firm hired to help define issues regarding parity. But ALPA officials said the pilots are being asked to ratify a contract without final specific language about work rules, pay, job security and financial returns. "It is tantamount to signing a blank check, which we will not do," Bryan said.

US Airways has been negotiating with its unions without progress for more than a year. In recent weeks, representatives for both sides have been meeting almost daily. Earlier this year, management launched an aggressive lobbying campaign among employees, conducting meetings along the East Coast. It has threatened to downsize US Airways to a regional carrier if it cannot win the concessions. In July, ALPA filed suit in federal court, saying the company is trying to force the union to accept management demands through a campaign of threats, including layoffs.

As part of its restructuring, the airline has eliminated a number of flights here and elsewhere and announced plans to close maintenance facilities and reservation centers. Altogether, the moves will result in the loss of 1,100 jobs throughout the system. Earlier this year, 220 jobs were lost at BWI when the airline shifted most of its Caribbean service to Philadelphia.

Pub Date: 8/30/97

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