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American Airlines' Unions Won't Support Purchase of TWA, Citing Worker Turmoil

Aviation: Reps for pilots, flight attendants and mechanics urge focus on better benefits for current employees.

March 29, 2001|From Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas — Leaders of American Airlines' three unions said Wednesday that they cannot support the carrier's purchase of bankrupt Trans World Airlines, saying the difficulty of absorbing TWA's workers could cause turmoil.

In a letter to American Chief Executive Donald J. Carty, leaders of the pilots', flight attendants' and mechanics' unions said the airline should focus on improving benefits for its employees instead of acquiring TWA.

Carty responded that he was surprised and disappointed by the stance taken in the letter from John Darrah, president of the Allied Pilots Assn.; John Ward, president of the Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants; and James C. Little, vice president of the air transport division of the Transportation Workers Union.

"The employee turmoil that typically accompanies airline mergers and acquisitions--in particular, the difficulty of integrating work forces--could have a seriously negative effect on the future well-being of American Airlines," the union leaders said. "Given that inevitable impact of an acquisition, it is imperative that management deals fairly with and recognizes the contributions of its employee groups."

The union leaders said they "have yet to receive the assurances from management concerning the benefits, job protections and career expectations that our members deserve," while the airline has committed to lifting TWA workers up to American's higher pay scales.

Carty said in a letter to the unions: "As we have shared with each of you on several occasions, the TWA transaction was undertaken to protect the long-term future of our company and the interests of all of our union and nonunion employees. That is a goal I had hoped we all shared, since our employees' well-being and future should be our No. 1 priority."

American has long had troubled relations with its major unions. Contract talks with the flight attendants have lasted more than two years, and the union tried--unsuccessfully--to win the right to strike.

The 11,000 pilots, who begin contract negotiations this summer, protested American's 1998 purchase of Reno Air by conducting a sickout that caused the cancellation of more than 6,000 flights.

The unions don't have the power to block American from closing the TWA deal early next month, according to American officials, but they could make for labor unrest.

American's parent, Fort Worth-based AMR Corp., has agreed to pay $742 million for TWA, whose planes and 2,400 pilots would be folded into the American fleet.

American and its pilots' union negotiated over acquisition-related issues such as job protection, but talks stalled last week. They are scheduled to resume next week.

Carty said the airline offered the pilots' union job protection during those talks and "will continue to work to address issues of importance to each of us." The company is prepared to complete negotiations promptly, he said.

On Tuesday, American officials wrote to the pilots' union, accusing the union of using the acquisition-related talks to negotiate unrelated items. The officials said they would discuss issues such as improved pension benefits and an early-retirement plan only as part of regular contract talks this summer.

Carty said he was confused about the position of the flight attendants' union and the Transportation Workers Union on the TWA purchase because the airline hasn't started negotiations on the transition. Union representatives have said they are not ready to begin talks, but the airline on Tuesday again asked the Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants to begin talks immediately, he said.

"Quite frankly, I'm not sure I can provide any of the assurances you seek if neither organization has told the company what those concerns are," Carty said.

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