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Pilots stand by veto of offer

| Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004

Two pilots' union dissidents said on Monday that recent events had vindicated their decision to veto US Airways' $295 million concession proposal on Labor Day. And they promised to block any new concession proposals unless the company drops what they claim is its union-busting ways.

"If the company bargains in good faith instead of demanding complete capitulation, then there is a chance for an agreement,'' said Fred Freshwater, a Pittsburgh representative on the union's Master Executive Council. "But I don't see that happening with this company.''

Daniel Von Bargen, an MEC representative from Philadelphia, said that two weeks of internal and external pressure -- including a rebuke from U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn Hills -- had not weakened his resolve to veto any new company proposal that he views as anti-labor.

"This is union-busting 101,'' Von Bargen said.

The defiant message came on the eve of a two-day pilots' union summit, beginning today in Charlotte, N.C., to prepare for more talks with the company.

The comments raise concerns about whether US Airways will be able to reach negotiated settlements with its unions, a key ingredient to attracting new investors needed to emerge from bankruptcy.

Without new investors, US Airways may be liquidated, throwing 28,000 employees -- including 7,700 in Western Pennsylvania -- out of work.

US Airways, the nation's seventh-largest airline, filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 12 after failing to get unions to accept $800 million in wage and benefits cuts.

The company had said early last week that it would give the pilots until Wednesday to negotiate a settlement -- fueling union fears that the company would soon ask bankruptcy Judge Stephen S. Mitchell to void its union contracts.

The unions believe the company will make that request as early as Thursday. The company, however, has hinted it may wait until a scheduled court hearing on Oct. 7 to ask Mitchell to cancel its labor contracts.

If Mitchell voids the contracts, US Airways would be able to impose wage and benefit terms on employees.

To gain Mitchell's approval, the company must prove that it negotiated with unions in good faith.

"I have been saying for two years that the company was engaging in union-busting,'' said Teddy Xidas, president of Association of Flight Attendants Local 40 in Pittsburgh.

A spokeswoman for the Communication Workers of America, which represents the airline's gate and reservations agents, accused the airline of stalling.

"The company ... has canceled meetings with our group several times in the past few weeks,'' said Candice Johnson. "We've provided them with additional proposals and have gotten absolutely no response. We're bewildered by these actions and by the company's statements.''

"We are still open and willing to continue negotiations with all of our unions to reach consensual agreements,'' US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said yesterday.

Separately yesterday, Xidas said Santorum, R-Penn Hills, owed the airline's unions an apology for remarks he made last week accusing the four Pennsylvania pilots of trying to "take the airline down.''

Santorum yesterday issued the following statement:

"It was not my intention to single out any one party for the current financial crisis of US Airways ... All parties, both labor and management, need to come to the bargaining table in good faith and negotiate a contract that will help the airline achieve profitability and maintain as many jobs as possible.''

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