Flight attendants hit picket line to protest lack of contract with US Airways

US Airways flight attendants protest outside Gate A West at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia on Wednesday. They are still in contract talks following a 2005 merger with America West.
US Airways flight attendants protest outside Gate A West at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia on Wednesday. They are still in contract talks following a 2005 merger with America West. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 16, 2012

Chanting "Corporate greed has got to go," the spiffily uniformed pickets outside Philadelphia International Airport's international terminal on Wednesday were not garden-variety protesters.

They were 150 US Airways Group Inc. flight attendants carrying signs to express frustration that seven years after the America West-US Airways merger, the combined carrier's 6,805 flight attendants and 4,279 pilots still don't have a joint collective-bargaining agreement.

Philadelphia's largest airline, which transports nearly 70 percent of passengers here, runs essentially two operations, with separate aircraft, crews, and flight schedules based on old US Airways and America West routes.

Management has been unable to reach contracts with the former "east" and "west" pilots and flight attendants because of seniority and wage disparities.

US Airways CEO Doug Parker is pushing to merge with bankrupt American Airlines, and in April US Airways reached conditional labor accords with the unions for American's pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics should a merger occur.

The US Airways flight attendants marched at airport terminals in four cities - Philadelphia; Charlotte, N.C.; Phoenix, and Washington - Wednesday to press their case for a better contract, contending that the 2005 US Airways-America West merger remains incomplete.

"Doug Parker has his eyes on a new merger with American Airlines, but he needs to finish this merger first and work with his current employees, who have brought him record profits," said Association of Flight Attendants-CWA leaders Roger Holmin and Deborah Volpe. "How can Parker get the next merger done when seven years later he hasn't completed this one?"

US Airways met Tuesday with American's unsecured-creditors committee in New York, according to Bloomberg News, which cited unidentified sources because the talks were private. A bankruptcy judge has given American until Jan. 28 to file a reorganization plan.

US Airways flight attendants, including 2,073 based in Philadelphia, have rejected tentative contract offers twice this year, most recently in September by a vote of 51 percent to 49 percent.

The flight attendants' union leadership had recommended the contract, but rank-in-file members narrowly voted it down.

US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said that as the holidays approach, "we want customers to know that this is informational picketing only. There is no work stoppage."

"Obviously, we applaud the union leadership for moving the vote from 75 percent against on the first tentative agreement to just over 50 percent on the last tentative agreement," Lehmacher said. "We were very close to getting an agreement."

He said the latest tentative agreement provided "significant pay increases," up to 45 percent for some.

The union said the company's latest offer averaged a 13 percent increase for former US Airways flight attendants and a 26 percent raise for attendants who formerly worked for America West and whose pay is less than their colleagues in the East.

"We are out here to show solidarity, to bring the West and the East together, so that we have a merged contract," said Terry Graf, a flight attendant for 46 years and president of the Philadelphia local.

"We want Doug Parker to participate in bringing a contract to all flight attendants. Seven years is way too long," she said.

Pilots who went through US Airways bankruptcies in 2002 and 2004 say they lost half their pay and their pension. Now, they say, the carrier is on an even keel - with top executives collecting millions in stock options - and it's time for employees to get a just contract.

US Airways flight crews are working under 2004 contracts.

Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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