Analysis: U.S. pilots vote on deals, other airline staff agitate

Wed Nov 28, 2012 1:11am EST
 
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By Karen Jacobs

(Reuters) - Pilots at United Airlines and American Airlines are due to vote in coming weeks on new labor contracts that in some cases offer the first significant raises in almost a decade.

The pay gains reflect better financial times at airlines, and partially offset years of concessions the pilots made as airlines went through bankruptcies and endured huge losses.

But other groups of workers at U.S. airlines are not being treated as generously. The carriers, citing high risks the recovery in their fortunes could stall, are not prepared to improve contracts across the board, industry experts and airline executives say. That means labor relations could remain rocky.

Indeed, flight attendants for US Airways Group voted overwhelmingly last week to authorize a strike, saying the carrier's latest contract offer still reflects the days when airline profits were in free-fall.

"We don't want to strike," leaders of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said, but "flight attendants still shoulder the sacrifices forced through bankruptcy a decade ago."

U.S. airlines have posted $5.2 billion in profits since 2010, according to the International Air Transport Association. Many forecasts call for the industry to make money again this year and in 2013.

Still, many labor agreements date from 2001 to 2009, when U.S. airlines lost $53 billion cumulatively, according to trade group Airlines for America. During that extraordinary period, the financial crisis and the September 11, 2001, attacks pummeled the aviation industry.

And the current rebound could easily collapse from a combination of rising oil prices, a U.S. recession and further economic weakness in Europe or China, the airlines and industry experts say. A large-scale terrorist attack remains a concern too.   Continued...

 
Donna J. Gaspero (R), an American Airlines flight attendant for 37 years, marches with Laura Glading (C), president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), during a rally to save jobs at American Airlines and American Eagle, as hearings to void labor contracts begin at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York in this April 23, 2012, file photo. Pilots at United Airlines and American Airlines are due to vote in coming weeks on new labor contracts that in some cases offer the first significant raises in almost a decade. But the carriers, citing high risks that the recovery in their fortunes could stall, are not prepared to improve contracts across the board, industry experts and airline executives say. That means labor relations could remain rocky. Flight attendants for U.S. Airways Group voted overwhelmingly last week to authorize a strike, saying their latest contract offer still reflects the days when airline profits were in free-fall. To match Analysis AIRLINES-LABOR/ REUTERS/Mike Segar/Files