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Accord Ends Threat of American Airlines Strike

December 23, 1987|RONALD B. TAYLOR and NIESON HIMMEL | Times Staff Writers

A 48-hour strike against American Airlines that was set by its flight attendants union Tuesday was called off about two hours before the deadline when union representatives reached an agreement with the airline.

"We have a tentative agreement," said Cheryle Leon, strike coordinator for the Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants, after the meeting ended in Dallas. "The terms of the agreement will be released to our board of directors within a few days and at that time we will release the terms. . . . But there will be no disruption in holiday travel."

The primary controversy focused on the two-tier pay system inaugurated in 1983 that set starting salaries for flight attendants at $11,600 a year while senior flight attendants were making nearly three times that amount.

Called a Victory

Union spokesman Brent Andrews was exuberant.

"We were successful," he said in Los Angeles. "We felt that as long as we held our strength, we would win. . . . It's just fabulous. . . . Now we're going out to get some champagne."

"We're, of course, pleased with the agreement," said airline spokesman Steve McGregor. "We don't have details in hand right now, but it does contain something for both sides.

"We're able to reward our employees and we're also able to remain competitive in a highly competitive business. We're happy we didn't have to make any layoffs. We've said all along that we had more money (available) for our people."

In Los Angeles, where 1,400 union members are based, union vice chair Kathy Kelly said the new agreement "means the end of the two-tier system and all attendants will be making equal pay at the end of the 4-year agreement."

McGregor confirmed that the agreement "will mean a single market rate pay scale. It is a similar agreement to those reached with our pilot unions and the Transport Workers Union (representing ground-based workers and mechanics) calling for the single rate."

Return to Bargaining

After union members voted earlier in the day to authorize a strike, teams for both sides returned to the bargaining table in Dallas on Tuesday afternoon in a final attempt to resolve long-standing disagreements over wages and working conditions.

American officials said they had replacement flight attendants ready to fill in for strikers. American flies to 150 cities in the U.S. and abroad, and airline officials had vowed that service would not be disrupted. McGregor said striking attendants would have been "permanently replaced. . . . Our position is that the strike is illegal."

Officials of the 12,100-member union, which represents only American Airlines flight attendants, claimed they had the strong backing of the membership. And they scoffed at the idea that the strike was illegal, saying the federal Railway Labor Act, which also governs airlines, clearly allows the union to act in its own interests after federal mediation fails.

The unusual two-day work stoppage was called by the union in an effort to break the bargaining impasse and avoid a prolonged strike, similar to that waged by Trans World Airlines flight attendants in 1986, other union sources said. An estimated 4,000 TWA employees lost their jobs in that strike.

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