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Talks Between America West, Attendants Hit Impasse
Reuters
Contract talks between America West Holdings Corp. and its flight attendants have hit an impasse and a binding arbitration was the best next step, the National Mediation Board said Monday.

Talks were suspended Wednesday after negotiations to hammer out a first contract for the flight attendants broke down on Jan. 29 with the sides $16.5 million apart. The mediation board said Monday it requested that both parties agree to submit all remaining open issues to binding arbitration.

Under the rules of the Railway Labor Act — the law that governs airline labor negotiations and disputes — if either side declines arbitration, a 30-day cooling-off period will begin.

If no agreement is reached in that time, American West flight attendants, members of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), have said they would strike.

"Our goal has always been to reach a fair contract for the flight attendants," said William McGlashen, President of AFA Council 66. "But the company's been unreasonable. We're prepared to fight for a fair agreement even if management forces us to strike to get it."

Officials at Phoenix-based America West, a low-fare airline serving the western United States, were not immediately available for comment.

The AFA has indicated that it may call for a mass walkout for a day or a week at a time, with no advance notice. Or flight attendants may walk off individual flights at random and with no warning, the U.S. mediators said.

America West flight attendants have been negotiating for a contract since 1994. Mediated negotiations began in July 1997 and a tentative pact was reached in October of that year, but was subsequently rejected by 88 percent of the flight attendants.

Negotiations resumed in March 1998. In November, 99 percent of the attendants voted to authorize a strike, if necessary.

America West, the nation's ninth-largest airline, said last month that several airlines had emerged as possible suitors.

UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. have expressed interest, and Continental Airlines Inc. has indicated it may step in to exercise its rights regarding America West shares.

America West's biggest shareholder said Thursday it would sell its America West shares only if a buyer acquired all of the company's Class A and Class B shares.

The shareholder, TPG Partners LP, owns 941,431 Class A shares of America West, giving it control of 49 percent of the voting interest in the airline.

Continental owns 158,569 Class A share, representing close to 8 percent of the voting interest, and has the right of first refusal on TPG's America West shares if TPG decides to sell.

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