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Special Event

US Airways Flight Attendants Hold News Conference

Aired March 24, 2000 - 11:03 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL TUCKER, CNN ANCHOR: Now on to our other top story, Frank Buckley is out at the airports covering the story for us, let's go live as he covers the potential looming strike on US Airways by the flight attendants -- Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, we're expecting a news conference momentarily. In fact, the news conference is getting under way right now at Reagan National Airport in Washington with the Association of Flight Attendants.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PATRICIA FRIEND, PRES., ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: ... just like the rest of working America. A cut in our pay and benefits would be devastating, but rather than cowering in a corner, these flight attendants have decided to stand strong against these unreasonable demands. We haven't had a raise in over four years, and it's -- we're ready and it's time.

In addition, US Airways calculates our pensions in a way that penalizes married flight attendants and we want that fixed. US Airways refuses to provide the benefits of the Family Medical and Leave Act to US Airways flight attendants, penalizing those who stay home to care for sick or injured loved ones, and we want that fixed.

But while the airline keeps paying its executives more and more, US Airways keeps demanding that the flight attendant accept cuts.

In 1993, when we negotiated this current contract that we're working under, US Airways was in financial difficulty, and the flight attendants, along with the other employees of US Airways, stepped up to the plate and agreed to cuts in our wages to help our airline survive. Now, times are good, we've turned the corner, and the US Airways flight attendants want a share in the profits that they have helped to generate.

Midnight tonight marks the end of the 30-day cooling-off period. It's been a long, frustrating three years. We're not happy to be here, but we believe this is the only way that we're going to get an agreement with US Airways.

When the negotiations broke down, 30 days ago, we announced our intent at the end of the 30-day cooling-off period absent an agreement to implement a strategy we call CHAOS. Most of you know that CHAOS means Create Havoc Around Our System. It's a name that we have given to work actions that involve intermittent unannounced strikes against individual flights.

We've been forced to use CHAOS among the flight attendants we represent only once at Alaska Airlines. In 1993, over a period of six months, we struck seven flights at Alaska Airlines. And the strategy had its desired effect: Alaska Airlines came back to the bargaining table, and we reached an agreement.

But US Airways has a different plan. Rather than bargain a fair agreement, they said that, rather than face CHAOS, they will simply shut down the airline. The airline says that it will lock out its flight attendants, and it will not let any flights take off to get passengers to their destination.

The shutdown threat of US Airways will ensure that no US Airways passengers go anywhere. It will hurt employees, families, our communities and the passengers. The shutdown threat is a bad decision. It was meant as a scare tactic in negotiations. But if it's carried out, it will result in the pain and suffering of thousands of travelers and families, who rely on this airline for their livelihood.

Nothing productive can come out of this threat. It has caused the airline to lose over $60 million, by some estimates, and it hasn't helped the negotiations.

The shutdown threat isn't logical, either. US Airways knows that CHAOS would actually have a minimal impact on its passengers. In fact, we've even announced 49 routes, which we would target for CHAOS at US Airways. And on each and every one of these routes, we have ensured that one of US Airways' competitors offers service. So if a passenger wanted to avoid the possibility of CHAOS, all that passenger would have to do is book on one of the competitors' flights.

US Airways knows that the impact of CHAOS is focused on the company, not the passenger.

Negotiations began again last Friday, on March 17. And they have continued; we continue to talk. Over the past week, we've been able to settle a large number of issues, mostly the smaller issues. So the large issues remain in front of us.

Yesterday, management publicly announced that they have acknowledged that they need to offer alternative ways to reach a fair agreement: just what we've said all along. But as of this morning, the company had not changed its demands that the flight attendants accept cuts.

We remain hopeful that the company will act on their acknowledgment of yesterday, and that we can reach an agreement that is fair for the flight attendants and for the company. Our sincere hope is that by midnight tonight, we will be able to announce that we have a tentative agreement.

But if we don't, we hope that the flying public will remember that this airline shut itself down. US Airways and US Airways alone will be to blame for the pain that it causes you, your families and your communities.

BUCKLEY: The announcement from the -- that is the announcement from the Association of Flight Attendants at a news conference in Washington at Reagan National Airport.

Essentially, they are restating the situation. They did not make any major announcement as to any sort of an agreement. They are still negotiating, from what we understand, still looking at the major issues of pay, pension and also the Family Medical Leave Act and the benefits that are offered to most full-time employees across the U.S. But in this case, at US Airways, flight attendants are classified as part-time employees, so they don't have access to benefits under the Family Medical Leave Act. That's one of the issues that you heard addressed just a moment ago.

So, it appears as though, if an agreement isn't reached by midnight tonight at 12:01, US Airways continues to say it will shut down US Airways, all of its flight operations, and the flight attendants will not have a place to go to work after 12:01 -- Bill.

TUCKER: Yes, Frank, I'm wondering if you can give us a sense of where the airlines are apart on the issue of pay because, as I understand it, the company line is that they are being offered parity with other flight attendants at other companies?

BUCKLEY: Well, the company's position is that they are offering parity, according to four major carriers, plus one percent. But when you talk to the folks on the labor side, they say that in this case with -- there is no such thing as parity because we're talking about different kinds of work rules, different kinds of work that's performed. The definition of parity is something that, they say, isn't so easy to pin down. And so, you can't just say parity plus one percent, because they say that parity isn't something that can be achieved that easily.

TUCKER: All right, Frank. Frank Buckley reporting live for us from the airport. Thanks, Frank.

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