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After two days of sniping, American Airlines and its pilots union have agreed on a timetable for contract negotiations, with each side dropping a proposal that had irritated the other.
The two sides, which have had a strained relationship for many years, said Thursday they would negotiate three days a week for five weeks beginning about March 10. They will be helped by a federal mediator who can guide the talks but won’t have power to impose a settlement.
After the five-week period, either side can ask the National Mediation Board for formal mediation help, which doesn’t differ greatly from informal assistance but is a necessary step before airline employees can strike.
The pilots’ current contract can be changed May 1.
The union dropped a demand for shorter talks, including a 120-day limit on formal mediation. That timetable could have cleared the way for a strike by American’s 12,000 pilots as early as September.
Negotiators for American, the nation’s largest airline, gave up a proposal for winner-take-all arbitration. The company wanted to let an arbitrator pick the company’s labor proposals or the union’s – but nothing in between – on up to 10 issues, five selected by each side.
The union has long opposed that process, called baseball-style arbitration because of its use in the Major Leagues.
“In binding arbitration, you are placing your fate completely in the hands of a third party,” said Gregg Overman, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. “We prefer a negotiated settlement.”
The federal law regulating airline industry labor negotiations has no provision for baseball-style arbitration. American, the nation’s largest carrier, unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to change the law several years ago.
Tami McLallen, a spokeswoman for Fort Worth-based American, a unit of AMR Corp., said the union’s timetable was too hasty.
“We want to ensure that we have the time to be thoughtful and deliberate about the issues,” she said, adding that the two sides are already considering more than 100 topics.
Pilots took pay cuts in 2003. Last year, the union asked for 2008 raises of about 50 per cent, which the company rejected. Both sides acknowledge there has been little progress since. (AP)
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