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Air Strike
Flight Attendants: New contract by Saturday or we walk
Airlines Making Plans in Case of Strike
By Alice Ann Love   Associated Press
WASHINGTON — As time runs out for a last attempt at mediation, US Airways has indicated a change in its negotiating stance with disgruntled flight attendants who are threatening a walkout.

US Airways officials said in a statement to employees late Thursday that in order "to be responsive" to the union, it "has offered alternative ways to achieve its goal of a contract that is cost competitive with the major four airlines." The company did not provide details and union officials were not available for comment.

Flight attendants wearing neon green shirts have practiced walkout drills at Baltimore Washington International Airport and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia airports this week in preparation for the end of a government-imposed 30-day cooling off period at midnight tonight.

"I can either fight for what I believe is right, or I can give in, which would make me less willing to do the job," said Mollie McCarthy, Association of Flight Attendants president for Baltimore.

US Airways said it is making emergency ticket-swapping arrangements for passengers booked on its weekend flights.

"Our goal is to get an agreement by midnight Friday and we are singularly focused on that, but in case we do not ... this is one of the steps we are taking to accommodate our customers needs," US Airways spokesman Rick Weintraub said.

The nation's sixth largest airline is facing a possible walkout by flight attendants at 12:01 a.m. EST Saturday unless negotiators, meeting with federal mediators in Washington, can resolve a three-year contract dispute.

The flight attendants say strike tactics could involve unpredictable work stoppages on high-traffic routes, surprising passengers as well as management. US Airways officials say the airline would shut down rather than subject customers to that uncertainty.

A last-minute agreement or an extension of bargaining could avert any disruption of weekend travel. President Clinton also could order a stop to a strike for 60 days and more talks, but the White House so far has not announced plans to intervene.

In the event of a shutdown, US Airways officials said passengers holding paper tickets for flights on Saturday, Sunday or Monday could exchange them through US Airways' other major airlines' or Amtrak ticket agents, or through a travel agent.

If a shutdown continued into Sunday, the exchange policy would be extended a day to include Tuesday's flights, a pattern that would repeat until US Airways resumed operations.

Electronic ticket holders or passengers with frequent-flier award tickets would need to contact US Airways to change their reservations.

The only flights that would not be affected by a strike or shutdown would be regional commuter airlines that operate under a service agreement with US Airways, using the name US Airways Express.

US Airways has not announced which of its competitors have agreed to the swaps, although American, TWA and Southwest have said they will honor US Airways tickets. The exchanges would be subject to seating availability.

A US Airways shutdown would hit hardest in the East, where the airline controls a third of the market.

About 10,000 US Airways flight attendants are working under a contract that expired at the end of 1996 and gave them their last pay raise, of 4 percent, at the beginning of that year.

They are resisting the airline's proposal to put them under a pay-and-benefits formula based on what its biggest competitors offer, plus 1 percent. Other unions representing US Airways workers have accepted the formula, but the flight attendants say it would result in erosion of their pay and benefits.

The starting salary for US Airways attendants is $17,145 a year, while those at the top of the pay scale earn $36,918.

US Airways has promised to pay any of its 35,000 other employees furloughed during a shutdown for long as possible.

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